Region refuses to speak on important issues

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By Scott Costen

It seemed like a legitimate request, considering what’s been happening in Halifax and Ottawa.

Nine days ago, in an email to Region of Queens Municipality, I wrote:

‘As you are no doubt aware, there have been a number of media stories about harassment and other forms of sexual misconduct in federal and provincial politics. I’m wondering if a story about the region’s policies and procedures, both for council members and municipal staff, might not be helpful to educate the public about what’s in place in Queens.

Could you please let me know if someone would be willing to sit down with me to discuss this important topic?”

The region’s communications coordinator responded with links to a number of operational policies, but no acknowledgement of my request for a sit-down interview. “The Region of Queens trusts that the policies we have put in place will provide the guidelines necessary for nurturing a respectful workplace,” she said.

As if to close discussion on the topic, she added, “These policies and their intent are self-explanatory.”

Further requests for an interview — including a direct appeal to the interim CAO — have been ignored. The region has moved on, apparently. It probably wishes I would, too.

But here’s the thing. Communications isn’t just a fair-weather function, particularly not in the case of elected officials and municipal employees.

Government communications is a serious responsibility. It is a sacred trust with voters and taxpayers. To speak only on issues of their own choosing, those in power do a disservice to the people who collectively sign their paycheques.

To be clear, I had no “agenda” in requesting this interview. I was not looking for a “gotcha” moment. I was simply looking to educate the public about our local government’s approach to a timely and important issue.

What our municipal masters don’t seem to understand is that interview requests are opportunities. They’re a chance to deliver key messages to target audiences. This applies to pretty much any topic and any situation.

Region of Queens has become accustomed to giving dictation. The once-great Advance has shown a consistent willingness to print whatever the region sends it, no questions asked. The paper is hardly ever seen at council meetings, a stunning abandonment of basic but essential journalism.

There are good things happening in Queens and the Citizen is more than happy to cover those stories.

But municipal officials have a responsibility to communicate on all issues, including the uncomfortable or unhappy ones. Otherwise, they’re not being honest with us — and we can’t be honest with ourselves.

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