Langley Mayor Tim Callison doesn’t seem to be getting the message.
Still smarting over an editorial criticizing him for being too thin-skinned, Callison informed the paper this week that reporters should no longer contact him on his cell phone — the primary means of communication with The Record since he ran for election in 2015 — and that all requests for his time should now go through his desk at city hall. And in a truly unprecedented move, he followed that with a phone message asking for The Record’s billing address so he could send the newspaper an invoice for the time a reporter spent speaking with a taxpayer-funded employee, Langley’s contracted city attorney.
To the latter request, we respectfully decline.
We suggest the mayor instead send the bill to 700 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC. That’s the address of the National Archives Building, the official home of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights (the second is the document that contains the first 10 amendments).
The first of those amendments memorializes a sacred truth, one that has come to define the United States of America. We have a free press. Callison’s petty attempt to charge the newspaper for questioning city staff reveals a shocking ignorance about the spirit of the First Amendment, and makes clear how little value he places on the public’s right to know.
A free press is a cornerstone of democracy, and it seems just about everyone knows it. Lawyers, judges, champions of free speech, elected officials — with the exception of City Councilman Bruce Allen, they all reacted the same way. They either expressed shock and amazement or simply burst out laughing.
And they were right to do so.
Not only is such a practice unheard of, it’s utterly ridiculous. Allen claimed that because the city attorney is paid by the hour, or in this case minutes, that makes it different than talking to a salaried employee. He also maintained that it’s further justified because the reporter who asked the question isn’t a city resident and therefore doesn’t pay Langley taxes.
He’s wrong, on both counts.
When a city employee answers questions from the media or public, they are taking time to do so. Time equals resources, and resources are picked up by taxpayers. So it makes absolutely no difference if that worker is paid by a salary or by the minute. It should be noted that the city attorney’s budget is $50,000 a year, far less than most department heads. One could easily argue that speaking with the latter — occupying their time — is actually more expensive.
As The Record said two weeks ago, the public has every right to question their elected leaders and the officials they pay to work on their behalf. The mayor’s attempts to bill the paper for simply asking questions should be considered nothing less than an assault on democracy and free speech. It’s an attempt to bully the press and curb its ability to inform the public. It won’t work.