On Wednesday while checking my Facebook messenger I found a private message to me from Julia Butler. Yes the City Councillor.
From Julia Butler via Facebook Private Message.
I think it is time that I write to you with my concerns about your recent posts regarding Mayor and Council. As a volunteer of the city you are also bound by the Respectful Workplace Policy 616. Specifically it states that Harassment includes “words, gestures, actions or jokes which may humiliate, degrade or abuse. Distribution or displaying of offensive pictures or materials, including materials on computers.” I would respectfully request that you remove such material from your website and facebook pages.
That was all.
I stared at it a while. Re-read it. Thought some. Read it again. Noticed that the word ‘Harassment’ precedes the quoted part and that the word ‘Specifically’ precedes ‘Harassment’.
I’ve been wondering how the respectful workplace policy might work with journalists covering the political arena. With my publicly taking a stance and being openly critical of certain things and people I realized that the line between critical reporting and policy would be tested. And I had wondered if any one on council might react to criticism by trying to quiet my voice or remove me from the position I’ve had for almost 10 years – broadcasting city council to the community.
Over the course of the day I crafted a lengthy and wordy response. Edited and reworked it. Extended it. Then I chucked it in favour of the video you see below.
I won’t say I’m not surprised. I’m a bit disappointed as well.
I likely should have consulted with the acting CAO first but that didn’t occur to me until after the day was done. C’est la vie.
Now we’ll see what happens next.
Some background for those of you who are new to this.
In the 1990s the City Council meetings of Grand Forks began to be broadcast live on the local Community Access Cable Channel 10. Around 2003 the interior of City Hall underwent asbestos abatement and the cabling got snipped. It wasn’t until Neil Krog’s administration in 2005 that they decided to resume. I was the ‘volunteer’ who stepped up to do it and I’ve been doing it ever since. It used to be “live to air” but in 2012 Shaw cable took the local system to complete digital cable. And that meant live to air programming could not happen. So since then I’ve been live webcasting it and providing a copy to Shaw for Cable TV 11 as well as a better version for the web.
My arrangement with the city is an ‘honorarium’. In the beginning it was $25 per meeting night. Sometimes it was 45 minutes and other times it was 3 hours. A few years back they gave me a raise to $50 per meeting. Since the switch to digital I’ve been using a lot of my own equipment and since the fire in city hall it’s been all my own equipment. Which I lug in, set up, take down and take away. Sometimes the ‘produced’ better version, which has titling and quick access links, takes many hours spread over days to produce. It’s just me and it’s not the only thing I do. And I get no extra money for putting in the extra time … sometimes there is no time and you’re stuck with the livecast version.
Now you’re likely wondering at this point where my money comes from. Well I have two pensions. Not large ones (death benefits shouldn’t be a lottery), not enough to elevate me past the poverty line. And things like this help out. (I never claimed to be a capitalist or businessman)
Now paying me an Honorarium gets the city out of having to train and pay a staff person to do it. Which keeps the cost down. Plus having me do it relieves the city of the need to provide archival service and infrastructure for meeting recordings. Another cost saving. Looking at other towns, unless some other entity is providing the service for free I would suspect that the cost to Grand Forks for this service is one of the lowest for any municipality in Canada.
IF I had to leave that position for whatever reason I’d just walk over to the media table and still bring my camera. And pay closer attention to what they are saying because I wouldn’t have to worry about being the cameraman, switcher, webcaster and journalist. (oh yeah, when it’s ‘on’ I’m doing all those tasks). So likely the live webcasting would be done by some one else – my cell phone isn’t the best connection to do it on (I’ve tried and they sound like gerbils under water).
So what am I? Volunteer? Employee?
Employees get benefits and pay cheques and none of that happens in my case.
Volunteers don’t get paid do they? Well apparently they do – that’s what honorariums are for.
Now I find myself in the strange position of contemplating having legal costs because of the things I’ve said and done in my ‘journalistic’ efforts. If you’re reading this on my gftv.ca website in early Feb of 2015 you will notice there is NO advertising or sponsorship. So the things I’ve put on this site, that I pay for out of my pocket as a service to the community, are getting me in legal trouble. Kind of brings to mind that old saw about the road to hell being paved with good intentions …
At some point I will have to consider my options. It’s likely that time anyway.
At a time when my peer group are looking at retirement, I’m 61, I’m wondering if I’m going to have to push harder and try to make money at this so I can carry on and afford to fight if need be. It would definitely be easier to just shut up and sit there to be the neutral conduit for city council to communicate with the voters. But I’ve done that before – sit there while a council I intensely disagree with does its thing and my stomach does flip flops but my mouth stays shut.
I’d rather not do that again.
I’m a tax payer in this town also. At least while I still have property to be taxed on. (we’ll see if that lasts or gets eaten up by legal issues – hey I’ve got a Kassandra whispering gloom in my ear 😉 And as a fixed income pensioner I’d like to see our tax rates stay low. Another way of saying that is I’d like to NOT see behaviour in city hall that I’m fairly certain will be costly and wasteful and driven by vindictive impulses.
Unless someone can point out where I’m wrong, I see that there ultimately is a clash between the aspirations embodied in ‘freedom of the press’ and a ‘respectful workplace policy’ when the press person is employed by the workplace they are reporting on. Then again, if some politicians weren’t being so objectionable this all might be moot.
So expect changes. I cannot tell you what they will be but they’re coming.