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Pemberton councillors object to proposed communications policy

We have opinions and want to be able to speak about them to the media, say Craddock and Helmer

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Village of Pemberton (VOP) councillors are objecting to a new communications policy that would see all media requests funnelled to the mayor.

"If people ask me why I make a decision at council, I'm not going to shy away from answering it," said Ted Craddock, longtime VOP councillor, when presented with a new communications policy at the regular council meeting Oct. 3.

"That's how I am, and that's how I've always been. And people respect me for my honesty."

Craddock was voicing his opposition to a section of the policy that says, "interview requests will be directed to the mayor. Councillors will not act as spokespersons for the Village unless they have been designated in the absence of the mayor."

Jennie Helmer echoed Craddock's concern and said that not being able to speak with the media would be an abrogation of her duty as an elected official.

"It is our right and prerogative as officials," said Helmer. "It's really important. (People) need to know we have dissent in here sometimes. We weren't put in here to agree all the time."

The communications policy is an update of a 2008 policy that is already on the books. It is meant to improve communications with the public and account for online communications.

It was put to council by VOP's communications coordinator, Jill Brooksbank, who noted that the regulation was in the 2008 version as well.

"This is definitely not meant to muzzle. This is (meant) to make sure the messaging is consistent."

Brooksbank also warned against airing issues in the media. Council meetings, she said, are where disagreements should be hashed out, not newspaper articles.

"If a councillor is asked about a decision that council is making, I would hate to see that in the paper," she said.

VOP Mayor Mike Richman said that he was not concerned about any current councillors speaking to the media.

But he raised the spectre of a councillor who might go off the rails.

"I think we need to protect against the belligerent disrupter who is intent on disrupting the process," he said.

Richman also added that when he speaks, he goes to lengths to speak on behalf of the council and leaves his personal opinions out of it. "I represent us as a group, never myself as an individual," he said.

Richman said having clear messaging is important, particularly on contentious issues like VOP's opposition to Ironman, for example. "When it comes to big events, we want to have a unified message that's based on group decisions."

Helmer and Craddock reiterated their opposition, and Helmer suggested the policy needs a line that will say that councillors are allowed to voice their opinions.

In the end, the policy was not adopted and Brooksbank was asked to revise it.

"I'm going to express my opinion, I'm not going to be contained, " said Craddock.

Fuel Management to be funded

VOP council also passed resolutions to fund a fuel-management project to guard against wildfires. They voted to support a funding application to the Strategic Wildfire Prevention Initiative's Fuel Management Prescription program in the amount of $17,670.

The Union of British Columbia Municipalities and the province fund the initiative, and applicants are required to put up 25 per cent of the cost. Council also voted to contribute $5,890 to the project, which is slated to cost $23,410.

An area has been identified for work on a slope above the village, creating a fuel break between the railway and forest.

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