FOULDS: Local lawmakers stands up to ‘bias’ among city media

He began his rookie term at city hall by standing up for exercise.

One year into his municipal political career, Donovan Cavers appears to be standing up the media.

Cavers is known as the green city councillor, both in environmental practices and in political-party affiliation.

He is a passionate advocate of transit use, a declared opponent of the car culture, a foe of the proposed Ajax copper and gold mine and a booster of shopping and eating local.

However, the young man who won a seat on council in the November 2011 civic election has gone from being mildly entertaining (earlier this year, he urged fellow councillors to stand while speaking, as a gesture to promote physical fitness) to becoming mercurial.

Last week, Cavers told Jessica Wallace, a reporter with infotel.ca, that he has decided against speaking on a personal rezoning application, due to what he views as bias among local media in reporting on the issue.

Cavers has an application before council to build a carriage suite on his mother’s South Kamloops property.

The initial application was denied, but it is going back a second time after the original application was tweaked.

Whether it succeeds depends on an upcoming public hearing, after which council will decide.

According to Wallace, Cavers told her he doesn’t think his application to build a carriage suite on his mother’s property would have garnered media attention if he wasn’t a city councillor.

“I’ve decided that, unless the media starts covering every carriage suite, I don’t want to talk about it,” Cavers told Wallace.

Cavers is right, of course.

Coverage of his carriage-suite application likely wouldn’t have resulted in as much spilled ink had he been Joe Sixpack and not Coun. Donovan Cavers.

And rightly so.

Cavers is a lawmaker who is applying to gain approval under a law (bylaw) that was revised just last year.

When a lawmaker at any level of government is an applicant under one of the laws over which he has sway, there will be (and should) be public scrutiny by way of media coverage.

Reporters at city hall need to cover the issue and tell the public what is happening and whether there are conflicts of interest that compel elected representatives to recuse themselves from discussion.

Cavers’ fellow councillor, Marg Spina, also applied for permission to construct a carriage suite under the bylaw amendment.

The media wrote stories on Spina’s application and subsequent approval — with nary a claim of bias and threat of silence from the councillor.

In fact, according to city hall, there have been a grand total of six carriage-suite applications deal with since the March 2011 bylaw amendment.

A full 33 per cent of those applications — two — came from members (city councillors) of the very body (city council) that created and amended the bylaw to allow the applications.

And, reporting on this is seen as a bias?

There have been many, many occasions during which a city council matter becomes more newsworthy simply because a city councillor is involved.

Mayor Peter Milobar has had to step aside when an unrelated liquor-licence issue was discussed, simply because he owns a liquor store in town.

The media, KTW included, has reported on that without a charge of bias or a threat of silence.

To be the subject of a story concerning local laws when one is among the lawmakers should not surprise anybody — least of all the lawmaker who becomes the subject of the story.

Christopher Foulds is editor of Kamloops This Week. His email address is here. His blogs can be found here and here. Follow him on Twitter here.



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