Tougher rules make for confused message

By: Sudbury Northern Life Staff

 | Mar 06, 2014 - 11:17 AM |
Befuddled might be the best word to describe our reaction to new, tougher security measures at Tom Davies Square.

Among the new rules — which have yet to be enacted officially — reporters are required to apply for ID badges obtainable only by supplying personal information. They must also sign in and out when attending council, and can have their access revoked without warning.

In a somewhat bizarre move, under the city’s accreditation program, bloggers and independent writers — so-called citizen journalists, who don’t work for a media outlet — are singled out as not being recognized by the city and ineligible for accreditation.

It is completely reasonable and absolutely inarguable that city staff should feel free to go about their days in relative peace and security at city hall. No one should have to go to work fearful they may be attacked on the job.

And with reports of break-ins at Tom Davies Square, of people found asleep in stairwells and on fourth floor couches, it is also reasonable that a security expert be brought in to ensure Sudbury’s city hall is the safest it can be. While none of those examples ended badly, it’s not to say another might.

These examples were also cited by both elected officials and communications staff as reasons to enact new security rules for the public and the media to follow in council chambers.

Granted, chambers are in city hall, but what has us perplexed is why — if city hall staff is concerned current security measures leave them open to potential harm — tougher rules seem to be directed at those members of the public and the media who regularly attend council meetings.

Would these rules make it more difficult for reporters to do their jobs? Yes. Is it the end of the world? No. But it does make an already challenging task more challenging. Last year, media were moved from the floor of chambers and crammed into a section of the gallery. Ostensibly, this was so staff could use the table during council sessions. As Ward 1 Coun. Joe Cimino pointed out this week, the table is empty more often than not.

Saying there’s a need to create “a barrier between citizens and staff” and characterizing northerners as knife-wielding and uncouth sends the wrong message.

The mayor told us this week that despite these words from city hall security chief Brendan Adair, the intent of the rules was not — and should not be — to chill dissent or discourage interaction between elected officials and staff, and the public.

But perception and intent can be at odds, and that seems to be the case here. We’ve received numerous letters — and many more comments on NorthernLife.ca and Facebook — from taxpayers who are concerned and angry, feeling that they and the media are not all that welcome at council meetings any longer; or that when they do attend, they will do so under a cloud of suspicion.

So regardless of the intent, the perception is something altogether different.
But after speaking with each councillor and the mayor about this, we were relieved to discover that many of them seemed as perplexed as we are, and as concerned as many of our readers.

The mayor has told us the measures need to be reviewed and will be. That is a good sign.

It is a sign that council understands a balance must be struck — a careful balance — between protecting staff and protecting the public interest. Both deserve equal consideration.

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