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La Plata's Media Policy Limits Access

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By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 6, 2007

If you're a reporter trying to ask the mayor of La Plata, a Town Council member, the town manager or any town official about a public decision or issue, there are a few extra steps to take:

1. Submit your questions, in writing, preferably via e-mail, to Judith Frazier, La Plata's town clerk.

2. Frazier will forward your questions to the appropriate town official. She also will notify the mayor and all council members of the media inquiry.

3. By the next business day, Frazier will send the official's prepared response via e-mail.

If your question is prompted by something discussed during a Town Council meeting, don't think about asking an official when the meeting ends. Instead, send an e-mail to Frazier, and she will "strive to send the responses the following business day."

Such is the new "media contact protocol" implemented Aug. 23 by La Plata. The brainchild of Town Manager Daniel Mears, the policy is designed to streamline media contact with town officials.

The media policy for La Plata, the Charles County seat, with about 8,500 residents, appears to be one of the most restrictive of any local government in the region.

Putting his policy to work, Mears did not respond to a voicemail or several e-mails from The Washington Post this week regarding the new procedure. Only after The Post e-mailed Frazier a list of questions did Mears respond: a prepared statement, included in an e-mail sent by Frazier.

"It is intended that the Town will be able improve its ability to respond by providing a clear point of contact," the statement said. "Regarding elected officials, as always they will communicate with the media as each deems appropriate. Establishing a point of contact provides them with flexibility to know someone can receive media inquiries on their behalf."

When The Post asked for a telephone interview, Mears demurred.

"I would be happy to direct your questions to the town manager, but he requires that they be in writing," Frazier said.

Mayor Gene Ambrogio did not follow the new protocol. When reached at home, Ambrogio agreed to an interview.


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