Question: What do you get when you combine a small town where nothing much happens, a city council apparently overly impressed with itself and a new policy aimed at controlling the flow of information from city hall to residents? Answer: White Rock.
A press release from that city's administration section appeared in my inbox Wednesday morning informing me that I no longer have the luxury of picking up the phone and calling city council members directly to elicit information about the doings of that august body.
White Rock city council has decided it no longer wishes to have unfiltered information released to the public.
The policy requires reporters to call the city's PR person, or the city manager, to request an interview with anyone on council or staff. Those two staffers will recommend spokespersons and - this part is important - "staff will provide a briefing report to the authorized City (sic) spokesperson prior to an interview with key messages."
That means they'll tell the "authorized spokesperson" what to say. They'll try to spin the story. It's political butt covering.
By muzzling council members and city staff this way, all information can be properly (from the point of view of the individuals behind this nefarious bit of policy) smoothed and polished before release.
Consider this: If bureaucrats in city hall are allowed to choose who can speak to the media, the obvious corollary is that they will also be allowed to choose who cannot speak to the media. If those selections are made for political reasons, the result will inevitably be bad news for residents of White Rock.
These are not the people you want deciding what you are going to be told about the business of White Rock city hall. They are not accountable to you, that is a status unique to the mayor and councillors.
That status is reserved for the people you voted into office and who you can vote out of office, if you so choose. They are the people who must answer directly to the voter - more often than not through the media - without interference from the city's administration.
No matter what the stated justification for this dangerous policy might be, what we have here is censorship.
I cover Surrey city hall for my paper.
If I want to speak to Mayor Dianne Watts, I can do so without going through anyone. I pick up my phone and call the mayor on her cellphone.
Delta Mayor Lois Jackson? Got her cell number, too. Both answer their own phones and talk to me. No nonsense. No interference. Nobody telling them who they can, and can't, speak to.
While I'm on the subject of Surrey's mayor, let me contrast what goes on at a Surrey council meeting with what goes on at a White Rock council meeting.
A typical Surrey council agenda is a stack of paper three inches thick. It includes many applications for development, often hundreds of living units at a time.
It typically also includes a dozen or two corporate reports usually involving millions spent providing services to residents of that bustling city.
Surrey is growing, vibrant and coming of age in spectacular fashion and the business of its council reflects those truths.
Now let us turn to White Rock.
A typical agenda runs to 16 or 20 pages and includes one, maybe two, applications for rezoning.
There will also be the 43rd staff report on the new tree-cutting policy that has been in the works since 1984.
White Rock is stagnant.
White Rock, too, is showing its age.
Given the contrast in the amount of business each of these councils manages, you might be surprised to learn that White Rock council holds more meetings in a year than does Surrey's and those meetings generally last longer.
There is suspicion in some quarters that there is much ado about nothing very much on Buena Vista.
I mention the contrast because it's important to understand that the city hall that works well does so, in part, because it is open to scrutiny and must account for its actions.
If White Rock intends to go another way, as it appears prepared to do, then it will continue to whither as its politicians do what they do behind the screen of "authorized spokespersons."