At times like these, it’s especially clear how important it is to get our information from the experts.
This is why I’ve appreciated recent dealings with the District of Squamish (DOS) communications department, who worked to set me up with department heads for a story in last week’s edition of The Chief.
It’s not a story that’s going to win any awards, but at a time when residents are chomping at the bit for any signs of normalcy, it’s at the very least of interest to readers in a news-you-can-use kind of way.
Between getting director of public works Bob Smith to describe the workflow of reopening amenities and what that entails — providing some boots-on-the-ground colour in the process — and general manager of community services Natasha Golbeck going into detail about how programming will resume, at first outside and, eventually, back indoors when safe, it was a perfectly serviceable story.
I don’t mean that as a weird brag; rather, it’s a compliment to how the DOS operates. It probably doesn’t even seem like a big deal, but just up the road, this is not how the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) does business, as I’ve come to know in five-plus years of reporting for the Chief’s sister paper Pique Newsmagazine.
The local government has long held a policy where, except in a few rare circumstances, the mayor (or, if absent, a councillor designated as acting mayor) is the lone spokesperson made available for interviews.
No matter what the story’s about, the only comment comes from the mayor’s mouth.
It’s a situation that’s unfair to everyone. There are plenty of topics about which any given mayor is knowledgeable and can speak about reasonably well. But to have that person take a crash course in the intricacies of, say, how a wastewater plant operates is unreasonable when someone whose life’s work is that topic is right there. The recreational amenities story came together on a Tuesday afternoon, shortly before deadline, and having to circle back to the relevant department to gather any missing details would have led to a delay in getting the information to our readers.
And at the other end of the spectrum, making the mayor read prepared statements about why the Meadow Park Sports Centre was again voted as the Best Fitness Facility in the Best of Whistler poll in a voice even more bored than what you’re imagining, is well below the mayor office’s pay grade.
But, most importantly, the “only-the-mayor-speaks” policy is unfair to residents, who are the voters and taxpayers. They deserve to know how their government is running. A lot of times, certainly, that means mayor and council and the decisions they collectively make. But it’s also the day-to-day civic services that residents pay good money for, as well as the people who run them.
As we at Pique sought new angles to cover the ongoing pandemic, one idea was to profile workers outside of healthcare who were still diligently clocking in to keep the resort ticking in the face of the crisis. Even though it was set to be a good news story, no municipal employees could be featured because they weren’t authorized to speak to the media.
So, Squamish, please appreciate what you’ve got, even when the status quo seems like the bare minimum.
Dan Falloon is the sports editor for Pique Newsmagazine and is writing about various topics for The Chief during the pandemic.