Roeland Park councilmembers concerned proposed policy could put barrier between council and the press

Roeland Park City Administrator Keith Moody.

Roeland Park’s governing body debated a proposed policy Monday that would guide how city officials respond to media inquiries — a proposal that had some members of the council worried about issues raised when the mayor of Prairie Village asked councilmembers to refrain from talking to the media last year.

The proposed Roeland Park language was crafted by city staff and would direct media requests related to city policy to city administrator Keith Moody and requests related to the city council to Mayor Mike Kelly. Moody and Kelly could then either respond to the request themselves or refer the media member on to the most appropriate city official.

Staff said the policy would protect accuracy of information while supporting timeliness of press responses.

Councilmembers Becky Fast, Tom Madigan and Erin Thompson voiced concerns the guidelines would place a barrier between councilmembers and the press.

“I do not understand how the mayor can be the spokesperson for the governing body,” said Madigan while pointing out that the mayor only gets to vote on issues in two particular instances: to break a tie or when a 2/3 majority is required.

Thompson said she had “real concerns” with the policy.

“The reality is we all have different opinions and policy beliefs and that’s the whole point of having a governing body,” Thompson said.

Mayor Mike Kelly, who requested staff draft a media policy, said the purpose of the guidelines was not to put more focus on the mayor than councilmembers. He emphasized after the meeting that the policy would direct council members to alert the mayor and administration only when a councilor received a request for official city policy. It would not direct councilmembers to direct all media requests to the mayor.

City staff reiterated the policy is meant to ensure that official statements regarding city or council policy come from Moody or Kelly while still allowing individual councilmembers to provide their personal opinions.

“If a reporter reaches out to you and asks your independent opinion on a topic that’s not regulated by this policy,” said city assistant administrator Jennifer Jones Lacy.

Fast brought up Prairie Village Mayor Laura Wassmer’s request in late 2017 that councilmembers refrain from talking with the press or communicating with constituents on neighborhood forums. Fast asked if Roeland Park’s policy included any guidance from the issue in Prairie Village. City staff said they would look into that.

Staff said they would take councilmembers concerns into consideration, tweak some language, and bring the issue back to a future workshop.