A Burns Lake councillor partially disagrees with council’s way of handling media requests.
Council currently reviews and responds to all media requests as a whole, even when questions are sent to individual elected officials or to the chief administrative officer (CAO).
Lakes District News has asked each individual council member whether they agree with council’s way of responding to media requests.
“I agree that in certain cases it’s important to all convey the same message; however, I feel individuals should be allowed to comment their own opinions,” said councillor Charlie Rensby, adding that he doesn’t believe the public benefits from council’s current communication process.
“Any time a policy of silence or control stops democratically elected officials from saying what they believe in, it makes democracy weaker and less transparent to the public we were elected to represent,” he continued.
“I do believe the public has a right to hear directly from me,” he added. “I am in the position I am in because the people elected me; I work for the people and must be accountable to my employer – the public.”
Councillor Susan Schienbein, on the other hand, said the public benefits from hearing about decisions that have been made as a group.
“We don’t always agree on items but, at the end of the day, each council member has to respect the wishes of the collective democratic governing process,” she said. “I think the public benefits by knowing that even when we have dissenting views, we respect the decision made as a group.”
When asked if she believes the public has the right to hear directly from individual elected officials, Schiebein said she regularly communicates with the public.
“I have a Facebook page dedicated to my role as a councillor; I regularly respond to questions, feedback, etc. I have phone conversations, Twitter conversations, Facebook conversations, etc. I also, as you know, will comment to the media on issues that I feel strongly about,” she added.
Mayor Chris Beach also told Lakes District News that the public benefits from council’s communication process by receiving a public statement that reflects the opinion of council as a whole.
“All of council provide input and approval for all media responses; therefore the public is hearing directly from each councillor,” said Beach.
When asked whether a policy outlining details of council’s current communication process exists, or if this was an informal agreement between council members, Mayor Beach sent Lakes District News a media relations policy which states it was last amended in 2011 – well before the start of this council’s term.
Although the policy states that all requests made by the media to council shall be referred to the mayor, it doesn’t specify that individual council members should not speak with the media. It also states that in dealing with the media the CAO is authorized to provide background information, which is currently not the case.
When asked for clarifications about this policy, Mayor Beach did not respond.
Councillor Schienbein explained that although the policy has been in effect for years, it has been updated and approved by the current council.
Councillors Michael Riis-Christianson and Kelly Holliday did not respond by press time.