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Changes to Council Rules: Who Speaks for the City?

Mayor Shelley Welsch's latest blog post

Yesterday I shared my concerns about one of the proposed changes to the Council Rules of Order & Procedure. Today, I share my concern about another suggested change – about communications and the role of a spokesperson for the .

Right now, our Council rules are written so that members of Council – when speaking for the City or the Council – get the approval of the Mayor, as head of Council, or the Mayor Pro Tem in the Mayor’s absence from the City. In reality this would probably only happen in times of crisis or emergency – when a joint response is necessary – because on the day-to-day operations/workings of the City, members of Council may speak for themselves. This rule ensures we have only one spokesperson – that could be any member of the Council, but it would just be one person. This rule comes into play primarily during times of emergency, when it is very important that the City speaks clearly in one voice, and when the mayor (or her designee) speaks on ceremonial occasions. 

Not coincidentally, the City Charter specifies that the mayor is recognized as the head of the city government for all ceremonial purposes, and by the governor for purposes of military law. Of course, all of us who sit on the City Council are free to speak to the press as we so choose – when speaking for ourselves.

The suggestion has been made by Councilmember Paulette Carr that we change our Council rules so that the mayor does not have to approve a member of Council speaking on behalf of the full Council or the City.

If you have been in a business, non-profit or otherwise, you probably know about crisis management plans that set forth how to react in the event of an emergency or crisis. A big part of those plans is specifying who says what and when it is said. The experts stress that there be one message during an emergency situation and a spokesperson should be designated.

The spokespersons can change – it may be the president of a company; the PR person; the company expert on whatever the crisis involves. But it’s one message and one spokesperson. Trouble can happen when too many people try to speak for one institution – it’s the public relations equivalent of “too many cooks spoil the broth.”

I regularly receive calls from the press asking me for comments on issues that are not in my purview – and they are referred to the City Manager. I never want to be seen as speaking for the City without the information needed to speak accurately. This Council rule aims to ensure that when any of the seven members of Council speak for the Council or the City, he or she is presenting the one message that is best for the City, and others are not putting out different messages.

That is what is best for the City. I hope my colleagues on the Council agree and support the current rule as written. If not, I fear for the messages we will put out if and when an emergency occurs in our City. That time of crisis is exactly the time when one voice, and one message, should be heard.

The Council will be discussing the Council rules on Monday, Aug. 13.  That meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. in the Council chamber.

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