Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Not-so-transparent city policy 'reiterated'

Posted By on Wed, Jun 15, 2011 at 1:10 PM

Mayor Steve Bach
  • Mayor Steve Bach

At the request of Chief of Staff Steve Cox, the city's Communications Office recently sent out the following e-mail message to city employees:

Media Interviews

Effective immediately, media interviews involving complex topics, policy decisions, matters under council consideration, other types of controversial issues, or with regional or national media outlets will be conducted only after consultation with the Communications Office (formerly Public Communications: call 385-5906). Administration would like to ensure common messaging across the organization and the opportunity for correlation — before staff speaks to the media. Simple media questions related to work day activities, such as police and fire public information officers answering questions about emergency incidents may continue, however staff are requested to alert Public Communications staff before each interview, or as soon as possible.

Surprised? If you listened to any of Mayor Steve Bach's speeches about his deep commitment to transparency and open government, you might be.

City spokesman John Leavitt, however, says the "practice" — it's not really a policy, per se — has been in place for years, and is simply being "reiterated." He says it's not intended to restrict media access, but simply provide greater coordination among city employees who give interviews.

However, the timing certainly is interesting. In his first speech after being sworn in, Bach, who was dogged by allegations of spousal abuse and harsh business dealings during his campaign, mentioned that he wouldn't pay any attention to "press clippings."

Also, shortly before Bach took office, city director of public communications Sue Skiffington-Blumberg was forced to resign.

Then Bach put the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce's Stephannie Finley in her place for the next month, with promises of big changes to the department. Bach also said that Communications would report directly to him.

Bach, who stopped talking to the Indy during his campaign, has also been less than responsive so far as mayor. Finley recently explained to me that Bach wouldn't sit down for an interview with me to discuss his goals, until she and Bach "had a conversation" with Indy publisher John Weiss.

Now this.

So is Bach trying to control the message?

"I don't get the sense, to be perfectly honest with you, that [Bach] is interested in controlling the message," Leavitt says, "just that people take a deep breath before saying something."

Leavitt assures me that interview and information requests will be granted as quickly and as thoroughly as in the past, and that our paper and other media will continue to have access to city employees for interviews. He says the communications department is still committed to transparency, and recognizes that the media — and in turn, the public — has a right to know what's happening in their city government.

I guess the city's actions will have to speak for themselves.

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