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Council adopts new press release protocol

November 20, 2009|By Christopher Cadelago

CITY HALL — Under a new policy adopted Tuesday, press releases on sensitive issues will have to be brought to a City Council committee before being disseminated to the public.

Following a string of strongly worded press releases in response to recent lawsuits filed by current and former police officers, the City Council on Tuesday voted 4 to 1 to give prior notice to its two-member Public Information Office Subcommittee before issuing public comments on litigation and personnel matters.

Council members also required a reasonable amount of time to review and offer amendments. Subcommittee members could call for an emergency session if they feel a full discussion is needed.

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The decision comes after a series of lawsuits against the city by current and former police officers and at least three investigations into police misconduct, prompting city officials to break with a long-standing practice of not commenting on pending litigation.

Councilman David Gordon requested the shift in policy after expressing concern over the tone of a Sept. 25 press release responding to a lawsuit filed by police Capt. Bill Taylor, who alleged he was unfairly demoted from his post as deputy chief after he tried to compel the command staff to address a series of internal complaints.

Drafted by Sterling and staffers in the city attorney’s and city manager’s offices, the press release expressed disappointment that Taylor “would file a lawsuit with such baseless and disingenuous allegations. His personally vicious and inflammatory accusations are absolutely false and we are confident they will be proven so in a court of law.”

The release went on to say that “Mr. Taylor has chosen to deal with his own personal career disappointments with a lack of leadership and professionalism.”

While Gordon and others received a heads-up call, he was not shown a preview of the language before the release was disseminated, he said.

“I think that if we had some input, it would be much more comfortable for a council member to respond to a member of the community [with], ‘Well the council collectively considered it, and this was the council’s consensus,” Gordon said. “I think, quite frankly, it did not reflect well on the city.”

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