'I can't talk to you' said the Council member - 'I've been told not to' Really?

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

May 10th, 2019



Media and members of city council have an odd relationship.

We first get to see the people elected to council during the election phase.

Some ask for help – we are generous and tell them as much as we can about the job they are seeking.

We get to know some of them very well. And every time we tell them – “we are not your friends. We are delighted you are running for office and we wish you well.”

The moment we become their friends our usefulness ends and our integrity dies.

The Gazette has always had a strong interest in encouraging candidates for public office that share our view of what public service means – and that is – An informed public can make informed decisions. We are consistent and persistent in digging out information politicians decide they don’t want to share.

Once the candidate is elected the rules of the game change – we are now one of the organizations that works at ensuring the council member is accountable and transparent.

media smartsSomething happens to people when they are elected. They begin to see whatever they say as important. They expect every word of their media releases to be published just the way they gave it to us.

We point out that they have confused reporting with public relations. The only person who really cares about what a young member of council has to say is their parents.

I was recently covering a photo-op event in the east end of the city – most of the Council members were on hand and the two members of Parliament who represent Burlington.

There was one council member in particular I wanted to talk to. Up until the meeting last week I thought there was a good working relationship but had begun to notice that this particular council member tended to want the conversations to be off the record.

On this occasion, as I approached the council member he said: “I can’t talk to you”. “What” I asked – “what do you mean you can’t talk to me. Why not?”

“Can this be off the record” was the response. “No” was my response. “Then I don’t want to talk to you” and the council member walked away.

I tend to be persistent – and pressed the issue. “Who said you can’t talk to me.”

That’s when the first shoe hit the floor. “I have been advised not to talk to you until your situation with the city is cleared up.”

Where did that advice to the newly elected council member come from?

This was an individual who looked to me for advice, comment and direction while running for office.

This was the individual who asked if we would publish comment and opinion pieces and help him create a stronger profile in the city.

What I found astounding is that an elected member of council decides to heed the advice of an unnamed person (we are pretty sure we know where the advice came from) without questioning the source.

It is a little late in the game for a council member to decide that they don’t want to talk to media.

Anyone who asks what the issue is with city hall has only to read the Gazette. We have been brutally honest – and written at length about just what the issue is.

The details can be read by anyone.

In one of the documents we received from the city the word “vexatious” was used. We had to pull out our Oxford English Dictionary to be sure we fully understood the word.

Vexatious – causing or tending to cause annoyance, frustration, or worry.

synonyms: annoying, vexing, irritating, irksome, displeasing, infuriating, maddening, exasperating, provoking, galling, rankling, grating, jarring, harassing, harrying, bothersome, tiresome, troublesome, niggling.

That would describe me; something I am proud of.

The council member has less than a year under his belt – perhaps he will learn over time. I’m not betting on it.

We are waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Salt with Pepper is the musings, reflections and opinions of the publisher of the Burlington Gazette

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8 comments to ‘I can’t talk to you’ said the Council member – ‘I’ve been told not to’ Really?

  • Elan

    I think lots has changed at Council. However, there is bound to be some hangover from the previous Council’s rocky-run. Lets give it time, and extend the Councilors some slack.
    We are five months in to a four year term. Things will be settle. But I do give them the benefit of the doubt. I truly believe they are well-intentioned.

  • Roger

    Hey… if an elected councillor can’t take the heat, he or she should do the right thing, resign and make way for someone who will represent their ward and city more openly. No ?

  • Oleksandr Kogdenko

    @Roger “Still appears staff is running the city” .. as it should be. Councillors provide input from residents and business owners and ensure accountability, but it would be horrendous if people with no experience in City planning or economics started running the City.

    • Gary Scobie

      Interesting comment. I could apply the same logic to Mr. Ford running the province. Where are his Urban Planning and Economics degrees?

  • Roger

    Still appears staff is running the city – 5 councilors and 1 mayor is replace – displacement of the city manager – unable to understand my local media such as Burlington Post, Hamilton Spectator, CHCH, YourTV (COGECO) – I had assumed the media would be unified – hopes are this is resolved

  • Alfred

    I’ve been told not to talk to you? Really. May we enquire, who gave the order of silence? Some of you may be surprised.

  • Judy Christie

    Unbelievable!! I guess things have not changed much at all. We live in a DEMOCRACY and are entitled to complete transparency. Needless to say, I am disappointed that we, the people, are not anymore included than we were previously.,

  • Mike Ettlewood

    This is very unfortunate. I had thought that this sort of treatment would have passed with the departure of Mr. Ridge. Obviously, the poison has been inherited and is more pervasive than we had thought. This does not bode well for a more open, transparent and accountable bureaucracy. Some major changes need to occur and quickly. We also need our council to get itself “seasoned” a little more expeditiously and start thinking for itself.