In a recent communique to members of the Memorial Commission on Governance and Ownership of Memorial Health System, chairman Steve Hyde noted:
"A reminder of our decision during our first meeting that only I, as chairman, should communicate with the media."
Huh? Last we checked, members of publicly appointed bodies are free to speak their minds. You know, the First Amendment and all that. Which raises a couple of questions. Is this a power play by Hyde? Since he says no way, are the commission members such wimps that they need his protection from the big bad media?
Apparently, his designation as the mouthpiece was decided at the commission's very first meeting, and he says there's nothing sinister about it.
Still, it seems the rule, by designating a spokesman, means the public won't be hearing anything from commission members Bob Lally, Bill Murray, Jay Patel or Martha Barton, unless they mumble something noteworthy during a public meeting.
Funny, I thought this commission was supposed to conduct a "community conversation" about whether Memorial should be kept, sold or spun off into a different type of agency, such as an independent non-profit. It seems strange, then, that the very people leading the conversation have chosen to muzzle themselves.
Help me understand this.
"I don't remember who brought it up, but there was a general consensus we wanted to make sure we had a consistent correct story about what the commission is doing," Hyde tells me. "With 11 different people none of whom knew each other, they thought we better have one spokesperson for the commission, so we don't have 11 different people telling 11 different stories. There's nothing sinister at all in it. We don't want to misinform the public."
Hyde says he's not muzzling anyone and there's no legal requirement that people keep their traps shut outside of public meetings. He even says he might ask commissioners if they want to revisit the rule. But he also says he thinks reading about dissenting views in the newspaper might undermine the group.
"I undestand your point of view and your job," Hyde says. "It's a good point. In the meetings any commissinoenr can opine on any topic they want. But at least we're all there to hear it and agree or disagree with it. There's a concern that if you were to speak with a commissioner and you might get a point of view that runs counter to a decision or an activity that the commission is performing, a premature judgment, and if it's not expressed as such, you could write a story the commission has decided when it may not be true."
Ah, the risks of a Democracy!