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Mayor, councillors at odds over communication policy

With Olympics around the corner, Melamed wants Whistler’s reputation managed



How closely should staff at municipal hall monitor what Whistler's mayor and councillors say to the media?

That question rose to the limelight this week when Mayor Ken Melamed reminded the local press and councillors about the Resort Municipality of Whistler's four-year-old communication policy. Namely, councillors must consult with the municipality's management before responding to any media requests.

The policy is now being emphasized, said the mayor, because of the large increase in media calls the RMOW saw during the one-year Olympic countdown last month.

"The point is that Whistler is already on the world stage," said Melamed.

"Everything we say and do gets reported and picked up internationally now... It is in the community's interest to have clear, consistent, factual communication that goes out. Really, all we are trying to do is manage our reputation."

The communication policy was adopted in 2005, but has not been enforced in recent years. In fact, almost all councillors said they were not aware of the policy until this week, including returning councillors Eckhard Zeidler and Ralph Forsyth.

Melamed said the intent of enforcing the policy is to manage the RMOW's communication in a positive way.

"It, in no way, shape or form, is meant to limit the dialogue or the ability of the local papers to report on news," he said.

But several councillors are not on board with the policy.

"We are all elected as independent candidates, not as part of a political party," said Zeidler, who brought attention to the issue last week.

"I see myself as a representative of the people of Whistler, and therefore I will continue to speak to anybody that wants to call me directly."

Added Councillor Ted Milner: "Communication is the worst part of what we do, and anything that curtails that I think is bad."

"We need more visibility. If anything, we are doing too much in-camera (closed meetings), and we need to get more up front."

And Councillor Grant Lamont also questioned what he called "censorship," saying: "We were elected to be accessible and communicate effectively with the community, and this would not only be a step backward, but a leap backward."

During Tuesday's council meeting, all councillors further addressed their view on the communication policy. Most affirmed they will continue to speak to the media - and the public - directly.

As it stands now, the policy is not legally binding, and is only a suggested way for lawmakers to deal with media calls.

Mayor Ken Melamed, though, told the local press that any future calls to him would have to go through the communications department at municipal hall.

He also is changing his cell phone number.

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