A message Mayor Laura Wassmer sent to members of the Prairie Village City Council on Monday discouraging the elected officials from communicating with constituents on neighborhood web forums or from speaking with the press has prompted pushback from some members of the governing body.
Wassmer sent the following message to members of the city council Monday after councilwoman Jori Nelson posted a message about the Village Square community input sessions on the website NextDoor, and councilwoman Sheila Myers asked the Shawnee Mission Post to publish a similar statement:
Council, please remember that you collectively represent a governing body of twelve members. While you are entitled to your own opinion, it is important that communication involving City related events, projects, etc. come from the CITY, and not from individual council members. While you are welcome to post information on your own FB pages that are obviously your own opinions, please refrain from discussing your views individually with the media or posting on neighborhood chat forums/online neighborhood websites. All media requests for information should be forwarded to either myself or [City Administrator] Wes [Jordan] in the future. Thank you for your cooperation. Laura
That message struck at least four members of the council as crossing an important line. As elected officials, one said, they should have the ability to express their opinions on any issue without fear of reprisal, and it was not appropriate for Wassmer to ask them to yield their ability to communicate with constituents.
Asked about the move to send the message, Wassmer provided the following statement to the Shawnee Mission Post:
I believe there is a difference between “free speech” and individual council members presenting information to the public as though they are representing the City or the governing body as a whole. That is where I believe individual council members sometimes cross the line and create confusion for the public. Council members are free to voice their opinions as their own opinions but only when it is made clear to citizens that the information they are sharing is their personal opinion and not necessarily representative of the entire governing body or the City as a whole. I have received comments from several citizens and other council members that this posting is deemed inappropriate and is not appreciated. It also generates phone calls and extra work for our staff. Many of our council members forget that their actions may have unintended consequences beyond them simply exercising their freedom of speech.