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Robinson says city employees need his OK to speak to media

October 12, 2005 - By MIKE ANTHONY

Executive Editor

Crestwood Mayor Roy Robinson has designated himself as the contact person for all media inquiries.

Under a verbal directive recently issued by Robinson, Crest-wood employees are prohibited from speaking with media representatives unless they receive the mayor's permission. The Call learned of the directive Friday after contacting City Administra-tor Don Greer, who said he could not respond to any questions un-less he first received the mayor's permission.

Robinson, who was elected mayor in April, told the Call the directive does not violate employees' First Amendment rights because "they don't have any First Amendment rights unless we authorize it.''

Board of Aldermen President Tim True-blood of Ward 2 said he was unaware of the policy until informed about it by the Call.

Trueblood also questioned whether Rob-inson's directive violates employees' First Amendment rights and whether the mayor had the authority to issue such a directive.

Robinson said he issued the directive be-cause he was concerned about inaccurate information being given to the media.

"I told Mr. Greer to direct all people from the media that want information to send them to me. If I couldn't answer it, then I will direct it back, but I don't want people in the paper speaking for the city when they are employees of the city,'' Rob-inson said.

"Well, I just don't want any of the wrong information getting out ... because sometimes there's information that gets out and people fail to come to me,'' he said. "Instead they go to the department heads and the city attorney and all this, so they're to go to me, and then if I can't answer it, I'll just direct the paper to whoever needs to answer it.''

Asked if the City Charter provided the authority for him to issue such a directive, he said, "I don't think the City Charter even addresses that. I am the chief executive of the city so that takes care of that.''

Robinson acknowledged that his directive is a departure from the historical practice of the city regarding media inquiries.

"Well, you don't ever come to me so that's the reason why we do it. You're calling me now, you didn't before,'' he said. "So now you come to me ... because a lot of people get upset that everybody else is in the paper except the person who really makes the decisions.''

Asked if the directive only applied to the media and not residents, Robinson said, "Most residents come to me anyway ... They (residents) can to talk to anybody they want. If it's going to be in the media, I want to know what's going to be put in there and what people are saying. They can't be talking for themselves. They have to be talking for the city.''

Trueblood, who first was elected to the Board of Aldermen in 1993, also acknowledged that Robinson's directive is a departure from the historical practice of the city regarding media inquiries.

"I've never heard of it done before in the history of the city of Crestwood ...,'' True-blood said. "I would question whether the mayor has the authority to tell people who they can or can't talk to. The First Amend-ment to the Constitution still exists even in Crestwood now.

"But more importantly, I wonder why he felt it necessary, and I would like to hear that answer from him. The people who he's instructed to do that, obviously they feel obligated to do so because he is the mayor, and I recommend they follow his instructions, but I don't understand why he would issue (such a directive). What does he not want them to talk about without his approval or censor, if you would.''

Under the City Charter, Trueblood said he believed the city administrator would have the authority to issue such a directive.

"I don't know if the mayor can without the board's approval,'' he said, adding, "Historically, at least for the city of Crest-wood, it has been the city administrator who's responded to media questions ...''

The board president also said he believes Robinson's directive ultimately restricts the flow of information to citizens.

"... This is not a form of government that I feel is open when you restrict access to the media, the press, to the people who run the city. You're restricting access, which means you're restricting knowledge to the citizens,'' Trueblood said.

"Again, I'd like to know why. What brought this about and to be very honest with you, I'd like to know why the board wasn't advised of this because I think we need to know that. If this is a personnel decision the mayor's made, we may be putting some staff members in an awkward situation if we don't know they can't talk to the media,'' he said, explaining an alderman might refer a reporter to a staff member if the alderman can't answer a report-er's question. "We've put them (employees) in a spot where they're in violation of an instruction from the mayor.''

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