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Is the City muzzling employees?

City council has now muzzled their own staff when approached by local media
20200326 city hall turl
North Bay City Hall. Jeff Turl/BayToday.

City Hall is either taking more restrictive measures to stop the flow of information getting out to the public, or can't get their message straight with its own workers.

All city employees now appear to be under a gag order when approached by the media.

The issue came to light this morning when we emailed a simple request to Al Tomek, Waste Management and Recycling Manager, about garbage pickup.

"I believe you should probably speak with Gord Young (Communications Director) as I believe the City wants everything to come from him," replied Tomek in denying our request.

We texted Mayor Al McDonald for an explanation but received no reply.

We also emailed Young asking if this is now official city policy.

"My role is to support City staff if they need it," Young replied. Those who may not be comfortable or are unsure about speaking to the media, or are asked questions outside their area, are advised that they can refer inquiries to myself or their supervisors."

That doesn't seem to square with Tomek's statement, and confirmed by a second city employee.

We asked Young for a copy of that employee policy but got no reply.

It signals a troubling trend of lack of transparency and accountability to the public by the City's politicians and staff.

The last five requests from BayToday to Young asking to speak with the mayor have proven fruitless. A phone message asking for clarification was not returned.

Asked why the mayor had time to spend on Facebook and Twitter but not respond to reporter's questions Young replied, "I don’t manage his schedule."

This new development comes only weeks after North Bay was named one of the five most secretive municipalities in Canada. Judges cited issues such as forcing North Bay resident Kevin Ferris to go through a Freedom of Information (FOI) filing just to get simple Summer in the Park attendance figures. Ferris was also forced to file an FOI to get information about the City spending over $400,000 to pay former CAO Jerry Knox to be a "Corporate Advisor" for the city although no work was ever done and the job never existed. That FOI has still not been fully resolved.

The lack of transparency has been amplified in the past few weeks by a couple of events. Last week the Province's Sunshine List revealed a fired CAO cost taxpayers $210,000 for doing no work in 2019. It was the same story as the Knox payout.

Recently Don Rennick was banned from asking any questions of city staff and told that he would be forced to go through the Freedom of Information Act to get any information.

See: City Hall tells citizen activist to go FOI himself

BayToday emailed Young asking for an interview with the present CAO David Euler, but was denied a phone interview. Instead, we were told to provide specific questions in writing in advance and then answers would be emailed back. We declined, again requesting a phone interview but received no reply.

A direct approach to Euler yielded similar results.

Rennick, who has filed numerous FOIs about the City, North Bay Hydro and Invest North Bay is still banned from speaking during city council meetings. Mayor Al McDonald imposed the ban after Rennick implied staff was misleading councillors.

Rennick responded by attending the next meeting with his mouth duct-taped shut in protest of losing his freedom of speech.

City council has since imposed more restrictions on the public speaking before council including length of presentations, advance notice of what presenters want to say and a ban on anyone just showing up to say something that meeting.

Jeff Turl

About the Author: Jeff Turl

Jeff is a veteran of the news biz. He's spent a lengthy career in TV, radio, print and online, covering both news and sports. He enjoys free time riding motorcycles and spoiling grandchildren.
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