Mayor’s media policy won’t instill trust

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Mayor Steve Bach issued an edict last week barring city employees from talking to members of the media. All inquiries must now be cleared by the mayor or his chief of staff or answered by the yet-to-be-named city spokesperson.

It’s a bad move that degrades faith and trust in local government — even when it might be at an all-time low.

Voters remember well the closed-door deal a couple years back in which elected officials skirted voter opinion to buy the United States Olympic Committee’s loyalty.

Elected officials decided to pawn the city police and fire stations in order to buy the USOC a shiny new $31 million building just to keep the organization in town. The deal also included another $22 million in incentives.

Voters were not consulted about the transaction because city officials cleverly decided to issue certificates of participation to finance the deal, and the certificates do not require voter approval.

Still, that prompted a local attorney to sue the city, saying it had no right to proceed without voter consent. A 4th Judicial District Judge, however, dismissed the case.

The USOC deal was intact. Voter trust was shattered.

The ordeal so angered voters that a few of them who emerged to make a bid for the city’s first strong mayor job vowed to change the culture.

Bach himself was one who used words like “accountability,” and “transparency,” in his campaign messages. We wonder what he meant.

It’s easy to see why Bach might be scared to allow city employees to talk to the media, whether it’s local or national.

The city, after all, was the laughing stock of the country when national headlines recounted its decision to darken streetlights and pull sprinklers and trash cans from parks.

We certainly don’t want that to happen again, but, if the mayor is creating jobs and building business like he promised, there won’t be anything to worry about, right?

The truth is that as business journalists, we’re used to the corporate culture of silence.

If we want to find out about Wal-Mart’s, or U.S. Bank’s or Northrop Grumman’s plans in Colorado Springs, local managers tell us to call the corporate office, where we leave messages for the in-house P.R. flack. The messages go unanswered for a few days then the corporate manager in charge gives the P.R. flack the go-ahead to give an answer. Then, the flack calls with his or her answer: “no comment.”

It’s something we’ve grown accustomed to because that’s the game when you’re dealing with private companies.

But the city is not a private organization. It’s public.

Muzzling the city staff will only prompt them to seek out the media when they’re not happy with a policy or management.

We wonder what the Center for Creative Leadership, which has a large presence in the Springs, would have to say about transparency’s importance to effective leadership.

Unfortunately, it’s becoming apparent what kind of new city government we have.

One city council member, Tim Leigh, who is already talking about his plans to run for mayor someday, lashed out at the Business Journal on his personal blog because a reporter asked him a question about how tax money is spent.

He compared the Business Journal’s inquiry to a Hollywood rendition of someone asking the Godfather about how he conducts his business — an apparent no-no. Does Leigh prefer that the government operate in a secretive world like the mafia?

If government won’t talk to the media, voters have no choice but to believe it has something to hide.

You can’t trust that.

3 Responses to Mayor’s media policy won’t instill trust

  1. Over the years, I’ve worked for corporations of all sizes, and in each case, there was a policy almost identical to the one Bach has imposed. It not only protected the companies’ interests, it protected employees also. It’s not just about control, it’s about thoughtful, well-reasoned communications (and in high-pressure political environments, I can’t imagine that not being a good thing… unless someone is just hoping for scandals.)

    Jeff
    June 24, 2011 at 8:34 am

  2. Curiously, I wonder all of the details of the mayor’s direction and not just the few snips we get here and there. It doesn’t appear on the surface to be any different than what our nation’s military trains and executes. Commanders are the release authority for official information and their words don’t seem to bring about public distrust. Actually, the military ranks pretty high in the public institution polls that evaluate public trust and support. Perhaps the mayor is taking a page out of the Department of Defense’s handbook.

    Jeff
    June 24, 2011 at 8:47 am

  3. Give the Mayor a chance to instill trust in local government before you start slamming his policies. Just as in the case of the USOC backdoor deal, we lost confidence in local government. We voted for a change now give the new system a chance to work. We can always vote for another mayor if he can not create a system of trust with the people that voted him in. You can’t have every disgruntled city employee have full access to the media to lodge their own personal grievances to the masses.

    Mike Long
    June 24, 2011 at 10:11 am