Councillors clear to share their opinions

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ALTHOUGH the mayor is Mornington Peninsula Shire’s “lead spokesperson”, councillors have been cleared to “express their own independent views” in the media.

The new media policy adopted by councillors earlier this year came nearly two years after they rejected moves by senior management to limit the release of information about the shire to three people, the mayor, CEO and the media and events manager (“Revolt over shire ‘muzzle’ bid” The News 19/6/19). The CEO at that time, Carl Cowie and the media and events manager, Mark Kestigian, are no longer with the shire.

The media policy now followed by the shire allows councillors to air their views, but cautions that they “make it clear that any unofficial comment … may not represent the position of council as a whole”.

Councillors are also asked to tell the mayor and shire communications department of any comments made to the media “to ensure the team are across specific and/or developing issues”.

The policy acknowledges that the media is entitled to “receive all information that is public information”.

The communications team will seek approval for comments attributed to individual councillors before news releases are distributed to the media.

The media policy says the turn around time for requests by the media for comment or information should be 24 hours “or sooner if possible”.

When the previous media suggested policy was dropped in June 2017, the then mayor Cr Bev Colomb described it as “a very early mock-up and [councillors] decided they wanted to create a media and communications policy from the ground up”.

The then deputy mayor Cr Bryan Payne said the proposed media policy “treated councillors as employees” and failed to give them the “respect” deserved by elected representatives.

He said the proposed policy inhibited the ability of the mayor Cr Colomb to speak with the media without first approaching communications manager Mr Kestigian or CEO Carl Cowie.

Cr Payne said the shire’s public relations at that time was being handled “extremely poorly”.

“And you don’t do it by handcuffing your [elected] people.”

First published in the Southern Peninsula News – 6 August 2019

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