By PAUL SCHLIESMANN, THE WHIG-STANDARD
Posted December 24, 2010
The chairman of Kingston’s accessibility committee says the city is setting up unnecessary barriers to open communication.
Glenn Outhwaite and members of the Kingston Municipal Accessibility Advisory Committee received a letter from city staff earlier this year that he says
restricts to whom they can talk.
It listed city staff, other city committees, accessibility advisory committees around the province and the media as those with whom it should not communicate.
“These are restrictions that MAACs do not experience across the province,” Outhwaite said. “Because of the nature of the beast, there needs to be lots of
opportunities for openness and dialogue.”
Breaking down barriers to accessibility, Outhwaite said, requires activism and speaking out publicly.
“If there’s something we see we’re not happy with, it’s our duty to push it until someone pays attention to it,” he said.
Outhwaite raised the issue of the letter, sent last February, in his update to city council on Tuesday night.
He said the letter instructs his committee members to comply with city internal and external communications policies — guidelines Outhwaite said don’t
Inquiries made to city staff must go through the clerk’s office.
“They don’t want us talking to anybody about MAAC issues. We are not to speak directly. We can e-mail to the clerk and the clerk will send it to the person,” said Outhwaite.
Media statements must go a different route.
“We’re to have arrangements made through the communications department,” he said, “but you have to look at the whole issue of access. Because it is very public, we are going to be in the spotlight more than most committees.”
According to Outhwaite, the letter, which came from the office of sustainability and growth, was unsigned.
He understands, to a point, the desire to co-ordinate inquiries to busy staff, but he questions whether private citizens can be prevented from speaking
Deputy clerk John Bolognone said the clerks assigned to committees are the best conduits for communications with staff because they can find the right person to answer questions and prevent duplication.
“We’re trying to ensure the committee clerk does their work effectively. It’s effective use of everybody’s time,” he said.
“It’s consistent with all our committees. I think there’s savings in time.”
As for talking to news media, Bolognone said city communications staff are available to provide “factual information.”
“The communications department can assist and support the chair,” he said.
Bolognone has not seen the unsigned letter in question and referred inquiries about it to sustainability and growth — via the city communications department.
He said there is no attempt to muzzle anyone.
“I can’t tell you what the practices and policies are in other cities. (Kingston) allows for opportunities to dialogue with the press and it’s not restrictive
in any way,” he said.
“There’s nothing being imposed on any members of any committees.”
Outhwaite said city staff “are great to work with,” but his committee members aren’t happy with the new communications directives.
“I’ve been on the committee for four years. It’s only the last 18 months that the changes have come about,” he said.
Newly elected mayor Mark Gerretsen, who sat as a council representative on the accessibility committee the last two years, was not available for comment
Outhwaite said Gerretsen is “well aware” of his concerns.
“It’s like a little cloud over what we can and cannot do. I think it’s positive I can speak to the media,” he said.
“This is the silly part: Our minutes are all posted on the web-site.”
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