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by Suzanne Gammon
Amid hot debate over the police costing issue at the Dec. 5 meeting of WN Council, another motion was passed, in a split vote, requiring that individual council members not make statements to media on behalf of council without first getting approval. The motion was first presented in November by Councillor Guilles Tessier and deferred to Dec. 5.
The motion stipulates that council “be apprised of any media release or comments before such comments are aired or printed”, and that “any member of Council in speaking to the media on any matter or thing that has not been voted on by Council, be required to qualify any statement as being their personal opinion and not that of Council as a whole.”
While the matter had already been discussed in November, Mayor Joanne Savage asked for clarification. “What’s being asked?” she wondered. Tessier made it clear he took exception to comments she had made, which he felt did not represent the position of council.
“You went live on the radio about this issue we’re voting on [tonight]. (…) It was the mayor’s version,” he stated.
In November, Mayor Savage had pointed out that, according to the Municipal Act, the Mayor is the CEO and “will definitely be the voice of council.” She added that the role of mayor requires her to communicate with and engage the public. She also noted that if it’s a debate “about the lack of trust in the mayor or CEO… if there’s an example of something someone is upset with, definitely my door is open.”
The discussion led to Guy Fortier commenting that the procedural bylaw needs to be continually reviewed, along with a definition of media. “It used to be radio, television and print; now we have Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and we don’t have a clear policy.” He suggested that a public official making a statement might have to qualify whether it’s a personal opinion. “I comment on Donald Trump all the time… is that council’s opinion or mine? …On something like the OPP costing, it’s not always clear when people are around the table… if it’s not stated clearly that it’s my opinion or council’s… We have to sit down and discuss it; I don’t see anything onerous in this other than we have to review it,” he said in November.