Youngstown Mayor Bars City Employees from Speaking to Local Business Paper

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By: Joe Strupp

While The Sun of Baltimore continues its battle with Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich over his directive banning more than 200 state employees from speaking with two Sun writers, a similar dispute has emerged in Youngstown, Ohio.

Youngstown Mayor George McKelvey last week directed all city employees and members of his administration not to speak with The Business Journal, a twice-monthly publication that he contends has behaved irresponsibly and dishonestly.

“As a high-level executive with a broad range of discretionary authority I have made the determination that City administrators and employees may not comment to The Business Journal on behalf of the City,” the mayor said in a letter sent to the publication on Feb. 3 and posted on its Web site. “In doing so I do not believe that I have overstepped any constitutional or statutory boundaries in exercising my right not to speak with The Business Journal.”

The letter went on to say, “The Business Journal should recognize that government officials do not have an obligation to speak with members of the press, and that they cannot be forced to speak with members of the media they believe are untrustworthy. They should also know the ability of the government to ‘control the content of its own speech in ways that it could never regulate or control the content of private speech’ has been recognized as legitimate.”

McKelvey said he has not barred reporters from any city events or public meetings, but believes he has the right to keep his employees from speaking with them. “I am a stickler for honesty,” McKelvey, who has been mayor for eight years, told E&P. “If someone in my business deems a reporter to be untrustworthy or irresponsible, they have the discretionary authority not to speak with them.”

McKelvey would not specify what led him to deem Business Journal reporters untrustworthy or dishonest. “I am not going to go there,” he said.

McKelvey’s ban comes at a time when The Vindicator, Youngstown’s only daily paper, is embroiled in a lengthy strike, which has not stopped the paper from publishing but has limited its news coverage abilities.

Publisher Andrea Wood said the Business Journal was reviewing its legal options but had yet to take any formal legal action. She believed the mayor’s ban stemmed from a lawsuit the newspaper filed against the city last year seeking access to public records, which the paper won.

“This speaks to the larger trend of politicians trying to shut down the media,” Wood added, citing the Sun dispute and the recent string of subpoenas against reporters who refuse to reveal confidential sources.

The Sun, which has sued Ehrlich over the ban, recently asked a judge to issue a temporary injunction ordering that the ban be lifted until the lawsuit is settled. A hearing was held on that motion late last month and a ruling is pending.

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