The Waveland Board of Aldermen on Wednesday unanimously rescinded an employee policy which limited who can make statements to the media.
The board adopted the so-called gag on April 6, by a 3-1 vote with Ward One Alderman Lili Stahler casting the lone “no” vote.
The issue was brought up again at Wednesday’s meeting, and the board acted quickly to reverse its decision.
“We felt like it was possibly infringing on free speech,” Ward Four Alderman Charles Piazza said. “We had a chance to look at it again and we rescinded it. Its over with now and we will move on to more important issues.”
Piazza made the motion to rescind the policy and its was seconded by Ward Two Alderman Ricky Geoffrey.
All four aldermen votes “yes” to rescind.
The policy was presented on April 6 as an addendum to the employee handbook.
Mayor Tommy Longo said it was more of a “house-keeping” issue than a controversial one.
The addendum stated in part that no “employees, official, or commissioners,” are allowed to give any interviews, statements, or press conferences with any media without prior approval from the mayor or city attorney.
Longo said Friday the policy and controversy surrounding it were “blown out of proportion.”
“The whole idea was to get the proper person in front of the camera or speaking to the newspaper,” Longo said. “I think the overwhelming majority of the people understand that. There were misunderstandings here from the beginning. ”
Longo said it has always been an understood “policy” that any media statements should be given by the department heads to ensure that the proper information is released.
Longo said it was the board of aldermen, and not him, who wanted to see the policy in writing.
“This thing would not be an issue if they would have not taken the day to day policy and made it part of the handbook,” Longo said. “I did not ask them to do that.”
Stahler, who asked that the addendum be reconsidered Wednesday evening, said she believes that department heads should be the ones to give interviews, but she said nobody in the city should not prohibited from talking to the public.
“That is why we have department heads,” Stahler said. “This addendum was overkill. I am very happy that the board took another look at this and voted to rescind it.”
Longo said he has sent out a memo to all city departments explaining that although the board has rescinded the addendum to the handbook, employees should still respect the chain of command.
“This is not a new policy, nor is it a gag order,” Longo said. “We just want to make sure everyone is on the same page and if there is sensitive information, then the correct information is released.”
BY: Dwayne Bremer
The Sea Coast Echo