An Aug. 7 city directive from Interim Oakdale City Manager Stan Feathers obtained by The Leader was sent to all Oakdale city employees, instructing them not to make city business statements to the media and advising them his office “…is responsible for the City’s media relations, with the exception of most public safety issues.”
The memo further instructs employees that they are not to comment on press inquiries and provides verbiage to be used during inquiries by the press denying having full information about an incident and instructions in obtaining information to be given to Feathers or the employee’s department head, including the name of the reporter and topic.
The directive comes on the heels of some public works personnel speaking out about conditions and possible results of city privatization of their services.
On July 25, The Leader reported about the rift between Feathers and the employee’s union regarding comments made at city council meetings and to the press.
In the article Feathers said he would never infringe on anyone’s right to speak publicly.
“If they’re speaking as an official of the city, that speaking should be cleared with the city manager’s office,” Feathers said.
When contacted on Aug. 9, Feathers said the directive did not have anything to do with recent press coverage.
“Historically, the city did not have a policy,” Feathers said. “My staff is to understand my expectations on media relations. I decided to create one.”
Mayor Pat Paul said she supports Feathers’ directive, which allows only the city manager, the council, and department heads or designees to contact or make statements to the media.
Paul, however, contradicted Feathers regarding recent events having a play in the policy.
“When you start scaring citizens on Homeland Security issues, we have to get control,” Paul said. “We also don’t want them coming up at council meetings introducing potential policies.”
On Aug. 1 The Leader published an article on possible security risks of the city’s water delivery and water treatment where city public works employees provided comment. At the July 2 city council meeting employees addressed the council on possible policy changes to save money.
Both Feathers and Paul wanted to make it clear that they were not prohibiting employees from speaking about concerns, just not from an official city position.
“It’s okay to introduce yourself as a city employee, but they need to clarify that it is their individual opinion and not the city’s position,” Paul said.
“I have no problem with free speech,” reiterated Feathers. “They have to understand they don’t speak for the city.”
Operating Engineers Business Representative Mike Eggener, who represents the city’s miscellaneous workers, said he understood that Feathers could properly dictate policy but found it interesting that there was no discussion prior to the memo coming out.
“You can conclude this as a result of employees trying to save their jobs,” Eggener said. “The timing of this can be construed as controlling employees from speaking out at council meetings and other venues such as the press.”
Since taking office in July, Feathers has always made himself available for comment on items. However, during a July 12 interview about budget items, Feathers asked The Leader to refrain from contacting line-level city employees for comment about city-related issues. In seeking to provide well-rounded articles, The Leader will continue to seek out a variety of sources for news stories.