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Editorial: Oakmont’s one-spokesman policy | TribLIVE.com
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Editorial: Oakmont’s one-spokesman policy

OakmontBuilding
Michael DiVittorio | Tribune-Review
Oakmont borough building

Oakmont Council needs to change its policy about how it and borough employees deal with the media because of the impact it has on the public.

For the past two years, policy has designated the borough manager as the only official authorized to handle media inquiries.

It’s in effect both in day-to-day matters and during emergencies.

Council is considering changing it, and we think it’s clear that it should.

The policy requires any borough employee — or first responder — contacted by the news media to refer inquiries to the borough’s media spokesperson — the borough manager.

Council members have mixed opinions.

“When it comes to the official business of Oakmont, we, as elected officials, have a responsibility to ensure that the public is getting up-to-date, accurate information,” Councilman Justin Lokay said. “That is the job of the borough manager. The policy is not to stifle free speech, but to ensure we are making it clear that we are speaking on behalf of our personal opinions, not the borough. Anything less undermines our manager and thus our community.”

Councilman Tim Favo said having a borough spokesperson may work in times of emergency, but no elected official should have to ask for permission to speak.

“I feel that if you’re spending the taxpayers’ money, the taxpayers should have a chance to give their viewpoint publicly,” he said. “Council members are allowed to speak and have their own opinion, even if it’s different.”

The policy does not specifically state that elected officials can’t talk to the media without the borough manager’s permission.

But there is a provision that says the media spokesperson would “determine who should speak to the media about any specific borough-related issue or event.”

Some elected officials this year have deferred comment about certain subjects, such as the closure and opening of Dark Hollow Road, to Borough Manager Lisa Cooper Jensen, the designated media contact.

Others have consulted with Cooper Jensen before responding.

Ironically, Cooper Jensen did not return calls seeking comment on the policy.

Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, said Oakmont’s policy is unusual to have all information routed through the borough manager.

“(They) would not have the same level of knowledge as others,” she said. “For example, the police chief would have the relevant info about police activity, and making the press and public officials jump through hoops under the policy is a waste of time and resources.

“Most journalists would continue to ask questions of anyone with direct knowledge, despite what the policy says.”

We agree with Favo and Melewsky. Council is supposed to discuss the issue again July 2. We hope it stops this one-spokesman policy. Council members need to explain decisions they make — starting with why they shouldn’t be speaking for themselves.

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