By Enrique Massot
The County News Online
The refusal of Rocky View Reeve Greg Boehlke to answer questions from the County News at a Jan. 19 public event is certainly shocking, but not unexpected.
In fact, Boehlke has made the readers and taxpayers a favour by setting the record straight on his contempt for this online newspaper.
Boehlke, who is the official spokesperson for Council, has never answered questions emailed by the County News.
While this blatant disregard for an elementary component of democracy should alarm every resident and every taxpayer in Rocky View, it can only strengthen the resolve of those seeking a more open and transparent local government.
Rocky View’s Communication Services, made up of staff, have not answered any of several questions e-mailed by the County News in the last six months. The Reeve’s now clear position shows that staff is receiving direction from the top authority on how to (not) respond to this media outlet.
Some of the topics the County News inquired about in the last six months included:
- Criteria used to select a consultant with links to the gravel and sand industry assisting in the preparation of a gravel policy;
- How the Ghost Cottage Club west of Cochrane, approved on the basis of seasonal occupancy has become a year-round operation;
- Action the County had taken to respond to a resident’s noise complaint;
- The extent of Rocky View’s subsidy to the East Rocky View utilities,
Of course, a test of a government’s vocation to transparency and openness is the way they deal with independent media.
“Local media can…do significant damage to the County and its reputation.” Rocky View Budget 2015
Authoritarian governments usually seek to control the message by cajoling “friendly” media and obstructing media they classify as “unfriendly” or “hostile.”
Nothing, however, sums up better the siege mentality existent in the “bunker” than this excerpt found on page 23 of Rocky View’s 2015 budget:
“Local media can help (and) can also do significant damage to the County and its reputation through misinformation or biased reporting.”
Public Council meetings are currently about the only way the County News can report about all the councillors’ views on issues and the way they vote.
On Jan. 19, Reeve Boehlke said the County News is “very biased.”
However, the County News has been regularly sending emails seeking to convey the Reeve’s voice and that of other councillors in different articles—with no response from Boehlke.
On June 2014, the County News offered all councillors the possibility of publishing reports to constituents, and some took on the offer—but not Boehlke.
The County News has offered in the past, and hereby reiterates its offer, to publish opinion columns submitted by councillors. To date, only the late councillor Al Sacuta, Coun. Jerry Arshinoff and Coun. Rolly Ashdown have submitted contributions.
Reeve Boehlke claimed that the County News is not a legitimate media outlet, which in today’s rapidly changing field of journalism would be difficult to establish.
One important characteristic of a newspaper is continuity. The County News has now been functioning without interruption for three years, and has published over 500 articles.
This reporter has been covering Rocky View since 1999, with few interruptions.
Provincial government departments promptly answer questions asked by the County News, usually within the day and without asking for credentials.
Rocky View was not always hostile. In the early 2000s, then Municipal District of Rocky View No. 44 had no communications staff. Directors of departments, municipal manager and councillors were just a phone call away, and promptly answered media questions.
Things began to change in the mid-2000s and the County began to gradually shut up at the time it declared to be “open for business” and it began to implement its “made-in-Rocky View solution,” consisting in using the taxpayers’ credit to build infrastructure supporting development in Balzac.
The County first hired one communications person, and then a second one. Reluctance and delays to give out information became more frequent.
When the County created a Communication Services, it started initiatives to get out its own, controlled message. It contracted an Airdrie radio space in which the reeve performed a scripted interview addressing constituents, and the County’s publication The Vantage Point (a glossy magazine) was published and distributed—at taxpayers’ cost.
A new Communications manager was hired who asked the County News to send questions in writing, a practice considered by journalists to be less effective than verbal interviews.
In 2017, Rocky View Communication Services will cost taxpayers $850,000. (From RVC 2017 Base Budget, page 15).
Five staff members work on this service—but they apparently are too busy to answer questions asked by the County News.