Monday, September 10, 2007

Rural town manager in southern Maryland wants all reporters' questions, officials' replies in writing

Nestled between the Port Tobacco River and the Zekiah Swamp near Chesapeake Bay, the town of La Plata, Md., population 7,500 or so, doesn't seem like a likely place for officious policies toward journalists. But new Town Manager Daniel Mears wants all reporters' questions for town officials to be in writing, to be relayed to the mayor and all council members, and to be answered only in writing.

The policy was reported Thursday by the Southern Maryland Extra, a publication of The Washington Post. Reporter Philip Rucker said Mears didn't respond to several e-mails until Rucker sent a list of questions to the city clerk, and declined a telephone interview. But Mayor Gene Ambrogio, reached at home, granted an interview -- and, after first defending the policy and his new manager, said it might not last long.

"When asked what constituents would think of a policy that cushions the town's elected officials from direct questioning from news reporters, Ambrogio distanced himself from the policy," Rucker wrote, quoting Ambrogio as saying he "did not approach the other council members and say, 'I want to implement this policy.' The town manager, he's the one who came out with this idea. . . . Maybe it's not the perfect solution. It's one of those things where you don't know if it's going to work until you try it." (Read more)

But the new policy doesn't appear to be getting much of a test among town officials and the local Maryland Independent, which hasn't reported the policy. "We have continued to call officials and they have continued to return our phone calls," Editor Angela Breck said in an interview with The Rural Blog. "It has not posed a problem for us." For an Independent profile of Mears when he came to town, click here.

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