Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert is not the only local government official who requires department heads to seek permission before speaking to news organizations.
Bellevue adopted a similar policy one day before Omaha's new mayor caused a stir with her directive Wednesday.
Some criticized the policy, saying it will restrict people's access to their city government. Others countered that it's a common policy that prevents confusion or misinformation.
The Bellevue policy says controversial topics or those with a citywide impact should be addressed to the city administrator. Department directors can address “routine media inquiries” but must get approval.
City Administrator Dan Berlowitz did not return a message Friday afternoon.
The policy is similar to one in Papillion, though a city spokesman said department heads are not expected to get permission to speak about routine matters.
Sarpy County is looking at a similar policy. It currently doesn't have a written policy, and neither do La Vista or Douglas County.
Stothert's chief of staff, Marty Bilek, said the Omaha directive is not intended to prevent access to city information.
“We kind of promised people that we'd be transparent and forthcoming, and we're not budging off that at all,” Bilek said.
Rather, the policy is intended to make sure the city is providing accurate information consistent with the mayor's message.
“The risk is that people will misspeak, or maybe they won't represent the mayor's views,” Bilek said.
Hal Daub, a former Omaha mayor and fellow Republican, said it's a common and appropriate policy.
“Those (department directors) were appointed to their office,” he said. “They're not elected.”
Daub said he had no written policy when he was mayor but had expectations similar to Stothert's. He said he doesn't see it as an issue of transparency but of management.
Daub's successor, Democrat Mike Fahey, did not have a similar policy, said Paul Landow, who served as his chief of staff.
Landow, now a political science professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, acknowledged that the mayor should want city employees to reflect the mayor's philosophy. But he called this policy micromanagement and a political mistake.
The mayor's supporters said they don't expect to see less information come from the Mayor's Office under Stothert.
“I don't think there's any evidence to establish that somehow there's less information being provided than there was before,” said David Kramer, former chairman of the Nebraska Republican Party and Stothert's transition office director.
Two Nebraska journalism professors and former journalists said such policies can mean that the public gets less information about what's going on in their government.
“Policies like this generally slow things down, and the quality and kind of candor of the answers that people have tend to suffer,” said Matt Waite of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Jeremy Lipschultz at UNO said it's the job of the city to be more open than, say, a business.
“I do think public officials are acting on our behalf, and they should be open to scrutiny through high-quality journalism,” he said.
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Mayor Jean Stothert's media directive