Info crackdown

So much for open government. Detroit Water and Sewerage Department Interim Director Gary Fujita issued a directive last week ordering employees not to speak with City Council members or their staff without direct approval. The e-mail said all information requests from the council are to be forwarded to DWSD legislative liaison Joan Hughes. The policy follows a similar decree issued by Public Lighting Director Mark Petty, said John Riehl, president of AFSCME Local 207, which represents 1,300 workers in the two departments. Calling on Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick to quash the information inquisition, Riehl issued a statement declaring that the union “will not stand for these attempts to limit our members’ free speech.”

But matters of public information are looking bleak all over the mayor’s infant administration. Since early January, city employees and officials have refused to answer even the simplest of press queries, instead routing all questions to Kilpatrick’s interim spokesman, Bob Berg.

“It’s more wanting to make sure everyone is on the same wavelength,” Berg said when asked if there’s an information blackout. “You want to make sure people know what they’re talking about. You don’t want them giving out incomplete information, or bad information. You’re dealing with bureaucrats.”

So “bureaucrats” paid to work every day of the year have no idea what’s going on? That’s scary. The consequence of this one-voice tactic is a swamped spokesperson. Berg’s return calls come late if at all and his info is scant, as reporters working for several local news outlets confided to News Hits. And if you need to speak to the Kwamster himself, forget about it. The situation is reminiscent, News Hits is told, of how things were when Berg was spokesman for Mayor Coleman Young. Berg says the deadline for Kilpatrick to find a permanent press secretary and city manager was pushed back a month to the end of February. “Until then, you’ll have to put up with me,” Berg cracked.

Lisa M. Collins contributed to News Hits, which is edited by Curt Guyette. He can be reached at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]
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