Carroll's New Information Bottleneck

September 05, 1995

Carroll's three commissioners may believe that a single person speaking for them will improve their public images, but they are making a terrible mistake in having that person speak for the entire county government.

They have created an unnecessary bottleneck that impedes the free flow of county government information to the public.

Hiring Cindy Parr, a former free-lance journalist, to handle press inquiries may improve the current public perception of county commissioners W. Benjamin Brown, Donald I. Dell and Richard T. Yates. They believe they are held in low esteem because they each speak for themselves. As a result, they believe news reports often portray them as disagreeing with each other.

The commissioners fail to recognize that hiring a spokeswoman cannot change the reality that they disagree on a number of fundamental issues and policies. The strategy may work in the short run, but it isn't very convincing. So instead of speaking for themselves, we will end up with statements similar to this one: '[The commissioners] aren't refusing to comment on it, they just don't have anything to say right now." Over time, those statements will probably result in more -- rather than less -- political damage for the elected trio and for Carroll government.

For Carroll residents, the real problem with the new information policy is that obtaining information is unnecessarily difficult. In the week since Ms. Parr was designated to be sole conduit for information -- no matter how routine -- from county government, the flow from the county office building has become an unpredictable trickle.

Department heads must obtain permission from her to talk to reporters. As a result, they waste incredible amounts of their time contacting her and then trying to locate the reporter who initially called them. A routine question requesting names of people on the search committee for the new planning director took three hours to answer.

The county government is conducting the public's business. If anything, the commissioners should be creating ways to make information more accessible to the public rather than less. Let Ms. Parr speak for them, but county department heads are capable of speaking for themselves.

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