Crestwood Mayor Roy Robinson’s designation of himself as the contact person for all media inquiries was overturned last week by the Board of Aldermen.
The Board of Aldermen voted 4-3 Oct. 25 to designate City Administrator Don Greer as the contact person for media inquiries.
The motion by board President Tim Trueblood of Ward 2 to instruct the city administrator to respond to media in-quiries was seconded by Ward 2 Alderman Jim Kelleher.
Besides Trueblood and Kelleher, Ward 4 Alderman Pat Duwe and Ward 4 Alderman Joe O’Keefe voted in favor of the motion. Opposed were Ward 1 Alderman Richard La-Bore, Ward 3 Alderman Don Maddox and Ward 3 Alder-man Jerry Miguel. Ward 1 Alderman Richard Breeding abstained.
Robinson recently issued a verbal directive prohibiting city employees from speaking with media representatives unless they received his permission. The Call learned of the directive Oct. 7 after contacting Greer, who said he could not respond to any questions unless he first received the mayor’s permission.
After Trueblood raised the issue of having Greer respond to media inquiries and said he would make a motion to that effect, if needed, Robinson declared it “out of order.”
After a lengthy exchange with Trueblood, Robinson permitted aldermen to vote on the matter. Trueblood and Robinson debated at length the board’s authority and the mayor’s authority as provided by the City Charter.
Trueblood said, “I would like to instruct City Admini-strator Greer to again respond to inquiries from the press and media without having to clear it from any elected official and continue to do so until this board decides differently. Those are my instructions and if it takes a motion or resolution to do same, I will do so.”
Robinson said, “Well, I think it’s out of order and I’m going to call it out of order because there’s nothing in the (City) Charter that states that I cannot limit that. I’ve made myself the point of contact for the media. I’m here and I’m continuing to do that.”
After Trueblood made his motion, Robinson said he wanted to discuss the issue with the city attorney and the two spoke privately for about a minute.
“Mr. Trueblood, would you be willing to table this until the city attorney’s had an opportunity to review the statements you’ve made and determine whether or not it’s within the charter?” the mayor asked.
Trueblood asked, “Why?”
Robinson replied, “I just said why.”
“I don’t believe there’s any question that the right of the Board of Aldermen to instruct the city administrator’s clearly stated. There’s no provision in the charter for the mayor to override that,” Trueblood said, citing Section 4.4 (a) of the charter, which states: “The mayor shall neither preside over the board’s deliberations nor vote in cases where the mayor’s personal or financial interest in the issue being considered by the board conflicts with the interest of the city.”
Trueblood continued, “I would contend that this is a personal issue that you have and therefore you should not be able to preside or vote on this issue.”
The city is in the process of hiring a new city administrator and Trueblood noted that among the duties of the city administrator, according to an advertisement for the position, is responding to citizen and media inquiries.
Trueblood said, “… If we’re not willing to pass the resolution allowing the city administrator to respond to press inquiries, then I would suggest strongly that anybody who’s interviewing for this job may want to be contacted to be told that that’s changed because we’ve misled them by stating they can respond to citizen and media inquiries because that’s not what takes place. They can only do so with the mayor’s approval. And if that’s the case and that’s what you wish to stand by, then I think we need to start the process all over again and reissue this want ad.”
Robinson said, “Well, I’ll just say this is that the city administrator works for the mayor and I’m here …”
Trueblood said, “He also …”
Robinson continued, “And if he values — I’m the one that writes his performance evaluation, too. So if he values that he will follow my instructions.”
Trueblood asked, “Are you threatening him?”
Robinson said, “No, I’m not threatening anybody … Any city administrator who will value their job performance, they will — they will follow my instructions.”
The two continued to debate the issue with Trueblood saying at one point, “I’m in-structing him (the city administrator) to be able to answer to the media without clearing it from any elected official in the city of Crestwood. That’s all I’m saying. Now I don’t know why you’re so offended by that.”
Robinson said, “I’m offended because you’re here once every two weeks and yet you want to interfere in what we’re doing in this city. The fact is I’m here every day and it may not be as part of my job, but it is part of doing the job as I’m doing it right now …”
Maddox later said, “On major issues, I think in just about every company and every city when there’s a major development, almost invariably that company or that city names someone as the public spokesman who passes on information to the public — to the news media. In that vein, I didn’t see anything wrong with the mayor designating himself as being that spokesman to pass on information to the media.”
Trueblood said, “Then you vote no against this resolution.”
Robinson later said, “… Evidently people on this board have never worked in either a corporation where they have these re-quirements, the federal government or any other local government. Almost all corporations and federal governments have a public relations office that does this and they have one person that speaks … to the media. And now, that doesn’t prevent be-ing directed to a department head or anyone else to find the answer.
“And I’ve never restricted anybody just to talk to me if I don’t have the answer. If I have the answer, then that’s the one that should go in the paper because that’s what represents what the city is doing. And it should be the correct one. When you get multiple answers from different departments and different people and then the mayor doesn’t know it or the board members don’t know what’s going on, it makes all of us look like we’re inept. So the only reason that I did that is that we had news media calling the city attorney. All of a sudden we see an interview of the city attorney in the newspaper. I said to Mr. Greer: ‘What’s the city attorney doing giving interviews?’ He’s a contracted person and he shouldn’t be talking to the media when we don’t even know what he’s talking about.
“The people who have done this are the people who have had good access to get their news story out. They’ve had very good access to the information and some — all of the information that’s been going out has not always been accurate and that’s how they make their stories. So I’m — the reason why I asked that I be advised of what was going down is perfectly legal in every venue probably except this one, according to some of the aldermen. But it’s because they have no management background. That’s the reason why they have stated this. I know that’s true,” he added.
An effort by LaBore to table Trueblood’s motion failed with a 4-3 vote with Breeding abstaining. Voting in favor of the motion were LaBore, Maddox and Miguel.
Before the vote to table the issue was taken, Breeding said, “I am abstaining be-cause I think there are bigger fish to fry …”
Referring to Miguel’s penchant for presenting financial spreadsheets to the board at meetings and the difficulty in absorbing all that information at once, he said, “… I just have the same question for you, Al-derman Trueblood.
“Why not talk to the mayor via e-mail or phone call and get his take and then come to the board because this surprise — and I’m not going to favor it one way or the other — this surprise is what is, a big surprise, and then we look like idiots up here arguing back and forth …,” he said to a round of applause.
Trueblood replied that he had asked La-Bore to speak to Robinson about the issue two weeks earlier in an effort to resolve the matter before bringing it to the board.
Breeding said, “OK. Well, I appreciate that, but I didn’t want anyone to clap for me. But that’s why I’m abstaining because no one likes the surprise …”
Trueblood said, “Were you surprised when you read in the newspaper that the city administrator was no longer allowed to communicate with the press …”
Breeding replied, “… I might have been surprised …”
Kelleher later said to the mayor, “… I would argue that the city administrator would be the best point of contact because there seems to be a lot of misinformation from your mouth …”
Robinson interjected, “I think that shows you that you are, you’re incorrect and you have no class or dignity. And you’re abusive and you’re crude and you should have respect for the people that are elected to this office. So that’s enough.”
Kelleher attempted to speak, but the mayor said, “You’re finished.”
Kelleher said, “… No, I’m actually not finished.”
Robinson said, “You are finished be-cause I’ve turned your ‘mike’ off.”
Kelleher said, “This has happened before.”
Robinson said, “Well, when you get rude and crude, then you don’t get to talk.”
After further discussion, Trueblood’s motion was approved.