Fair is fair

On occasion we get a direct question from a reader and often it is something consequential and potentially of interest to our wider audience.

Her question was, “Please can you explain why your Newspaper has banned Letters to the Editor from members of Centre Wellington council during the pre-election period, and yet the paid for (by our taxes) advertisement The Mayor’s Monthly Minute continues to be published?”

Ironically the same basic question was raised by a local councillor at the Fergus Lions Home Show this past week with one of our staff.

In the last election Mayor Kelly Linton proposed that the township improve its communication efforts with citizens. A monthly highlight of council business is published in the Advertiser and social media channels were added to the corporation’s previous efforts via radio and an annual report funded in part by OLG. The concern for some people at the moment is that Linton will benefit from the “mayor’s minute” during the campaign period.

As we understand it, there are communication funds available for all members of council to inform and engage with their constituents. There has been little uptake on this opportunity apparently.

As pointed out by staff in their report and capably noted by councillor Steven Vanleeuwen, the business of the municipality does not stop during an election period. Citizens still have a right to be informed and the mayor is the mayor until the new council starts. As head of council he is, after all, the chief communicator.

Going back to the first part of the question, our reader also wonders about the decision our publication made to not accept letters from council candidates. And again, this is consistent with the councillor’s query last week. What a tangled web.

The math makes it a simple answer. Heading into an election with the very real possibility of 50-plus candidates vying for office across our coverage area, we can’t take the financial risk of publishing pages of letters bashing fellow candidates or seeking adulation.

If memory serves correctly, prior to the implementation of our policy, three individual councillors undertook to use the letters forum as a free source of publicity.

Allowing councillors to overtake our readers’ letter forum because they didn’t get their way at a meeting the week before hardly seems fair. A smear one week results in a responding smear the next week. I still believe we have made the right choice, believing it is best to set up ground rules that will keep it fair for all.

At the time that choice was communicated, we noted councillors do have options not afforded average citizens. They have the option to speak in a public forum and vote. They can also make a motion. Any inability to sway the vote or steer direction at the council table rests with the candidate and his or her abilities.

We have given pause for thought on this conundrum and keep coming up with the same question. If the “mayor’s minute” was instead called the “Centre Wellington Council Clips” would this issue still be an issue? Perhaps a motion is in order at the next regular meeting.