Why Does CBRM Have A Partisan Political Spokesperson?

You may have heard that the Spectator locked horns this week with Christina Lamey, whose LinkedIn profile describes her as a “Communications Advisor at Cape Breton Regional Municipality – Mayor’s Office.”

Christina Lamey headshot

Christina Lamey, “Communications Advisor at Cape Breton Regional Municipality – Mayor’s Office” (Photo via LinkedIn)

Lamey has a habit of ignoring my emails and when I confronted her about it at Saturday’s port meeting, she informed me that when the Spectator begins providing “fair and balanced” coverage, she will begin answering my questions. (Interesting that she reached for the Fox News tagline to describe her dream coverage — should I be “fair and balanced” like Sean Hannity or “fair and balanced” like Bill O’Reilly?)

In a subsequent email to Robert Devet of the Nova Scotia Advocate, Lamey went further:

I have written to Mary before and added her to our email distribution list [After Mary sent multiple emails requesting that she be added to said list and finally cc’ed the entire council on an email requesting she be added to said list and then only after two councilors intervened to ensure it happened – ed]. As with anyone, I have no issue in sending her information if it’s available. Providing additional commentary or quotes for her blog [! – ed] is at our discretion.

In her characterization, she half-quoted me. I began by expressing that her approach is in bad faith. Mary’s writing usually contains commentary that is disdainful toward others in our community. I expressed to her that fairness and balance would be welcome. By her reaction, I don’t think we see eye-to-eye on that.

OMG guys, I was just sitting here having a latte thinking about what to make for lunch and whether the color of my scarf makes me look bilious and then SQUEE!!!!!!!!!!!!! my cat did the most precious thing ever and it reminded me of my favorite Alannis Morrisette song…

Oh, sorry, started blogging there for a moment. Any minute now I will no doubt be disdainful of people in our community, people the mayor’s partisan political spokesperson has apparently sworn to protect.

All of which brings me to the actual crux of this teapot tempest: What IS Christina Lamey’s role in our municipality?


Political Hire

In 2012, when CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke created the position of “communications advisor” and plucked Lamey from her post as spokesperson for the provincial Progressive Conservative caucus to fill it, he said she was a “political hire,” and therefore exempt from normal municipal hiring rules. Or as he told the Cape Breton Post:

It’s about time for more front door politics around here, and provide the clarity that’s necessary. (I will) be judged by that, and as I said to council, the buck stops with me.

Okay, I don’t know what that means.

But he also said of Lamey that she would:

…not act as a spokesperson to speak on behalf of the mayor or council. Instead, she will work to ensure media have access to all elected officials when needed, he said.

If the job of this spokesperson is to ensure access to “all elected officials” in the CBRM which, like most Canadian municipalities, has a non-partisan government (candidates don’t run for council or the mayor’s office as representatives of political parties), then why should the spokesperson be a partisan political hire?


Meanwhile, in Toronto…

Wladyslaw [FAL, GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

Toronto harborfront (Photo by Wladyslaw, CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Let’s accept, for the sake of argument, that the mayor of the CBRM needs a communications person (an actually quite doubtful assertion). It’s instructive to consider how other Canadian municipalities handle questions of political staff and communications.  Toronto, for instance, allows councilors (including the mayor) to hire political staff for their offices. But they would not be entitled to hire staff the way Clarke did Lamey and Mark Bettens, his executive assistant, that is, without following any sort of process. According to the Policies and Legislation Guiding Members of Council (including the mayor):

Members are responsible for staffing their offices.  Members have full carriage of their offices’ recruitment process and final decision-making responsibility for all aspects of hiring including résumé review, screening, testing, interviews, reference checks, selection and job offer and determining their staffs’ level of compensation within the Council approved salary range for the respective position.

Members may choose whether or not to use Human Resources or the City Clerk’s Office in their preliminary hiring process and decisions.  However, Members must be cognizant of and adhere to certain hiring requirements and employment related policies which continue to apply and must be followed by Members throughout all hiring scenarios. [emphasis mine]

Toronto’s mayor and council are clearly expected to interview candidates, read résumés, check references and follow basic hiring rules.

And while it’s true the Mayor of Toronto has a dedicated spokesperson, that individual is not the only communications person in the city — in fact, I count over 30 communications people on the media list from the City of Toronto website. These people are not political staff, they’re city staff.

Closer to home, I’ve just discovered that Moncton has a Corporate Communications department. Director Isabelle LeBlanc told me in an email:

[O]ur Corporate Communications’ employees are all City of Moncton employees.

The Mayor’s Office does not have any ‘political’ staff, nor does it have any direct reports. An Executive Assistant does work with the mayor and councillors to handle scheduling and correspondence, but reports directly to the City Clerk’s Office.

And yet, here we are in the CBRM with a spokesperson who is the mayor’s partisan political hire, but who also works for the councilors and who frequently speaks for the CBRM as a whole — who provided the public with information during the Thanksgiving floods? Christina Lamey. Who, under the title “municipality spokeswoman,” told the CBC about the problems related to “lingering mold” after the floods? Christina Lamey. Who controls access to the CBRM media list? Christina Lamey.

And who, on Tuesday, after Robert Devet’s story about my communications problems appeared in the Nova Scotia Advocate, answered a question I’d asked the CBRM Public Works and Engineering Department? Christina Lamey. The question was about whether the plan for the second berth had taken rising sea levels due to climate change into account — it was not a question for the mayor, it was not a question to a councilor. And yet, it was answered by Lamey.

See the problem?


The Part Where I Say Something Nice

Lamey’s LinkedIn profile notes that she has a Bachelor of Journalism (with highest honors) from Carleton University and that she worked as a reporter at the New Waterford Community Press for five months in 1994 (i.e. as a summer job while attending university).

I respect both. I think having a degree in journalism and having worked (however briefly) at a local newspaper means she understands — or should understand — the role of journalists in holding government to account.

Which makes her treatment of the Spectator all the more problematic.

And does not in anyway mitigate the deep conflict inherent in her current role as a partisan, political spokesperson for our municipality.


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