COPPERAS COVE — A new policy enacted by the city garnered mixed reactions from the community last week.
All media questions directed to any city department or city employee must now be overseen by public information officer Kevin Keller, who took on the position in late October.
“The city continues to grow and there was a need to have an employee in the position once again,” Keller said. “The media demands on the city manager were also very tremendous, especially during times of crisis, and could have a negative impact on the individual requesting and the city.”
While the responsibilities of the position are similar to Fort Hood and Killeen’s public information officers, Copperas Cove’s policy requires the PIO to directly schedule and be present during all interviews. Reporters also are not able to correspond directly with city employees over the phone or via email without approval of the public information officer.
Several council members said they were in favor of the current policy, which was approved by the council in February and enacted in March.
“I think the reasoning behind the public information officer wanting to be (at interviews) is for any follow-up questions in the future that might be asked,” Councilman Mark Peterson said.
Peterson said the city probably wanted to have another city official with firsthand knowledge of what occurred at the interview.
Councilwoman Marty Smith said the city simply cannot disclose all pieces of information to the media immediately.
“What if I did something incorrect — wouldn’t you think they’d want to protect me just a little while?” she said.
Smith said residents or members of the media may submit an open records request if they have additional questions or feel the city is releasing an insufficient amount of information.
Both Peterson and Smith said the new position will benefit the city because it will cut down on misinformation that occasionally occurs when staffers give several accounts of an incident. It also lessens demands on city employees whose time might be spent fielding media questions.
Residents question decision
Some area residents, however, are not in favor of the new policy.
“It sounds like control of information,” said Roger Mansfield, a Gatesville resident who regularly uses the Copperas Cove Public Library. “I would think that they would let whoever is in charge of (the department in question) speak.”
Lance Nielsen, Army veteran and Copperas Cove resident, said he understood the need for a public information officer in the military, but not in civilian life.
Nielsen also said Copperas Cove was not large enough to require a position like that yet. “If someone wants to contact the media, there’s nothing really stopping them, but if the media noticed something and no one is coming out and saying anything, it makes it hard for the investigative side of the media to go in, get the information and bring the story out to the public.”
Avaiae Fuller, new to Copperas Cove, said the policy seemed to make things less accessible, but she could see its purpose in an emergency situation.
While Copperas Cove’s new policy allows council members, the economic development corporation and the chamber of commerce to field media questions directly, it does require all employees paid by the city to go through Keller.
Department heads also are required to enact media policies that are equally or more stringent than the overall city policy. According to the policy, the department head is responsible for enforcing the new procedures and answers to City Manager Andrea Gardner for any violations.
The Herald’s request to interview city employees about the policy was denied.
“It would be inappropriate for staff to comment on city policies, as this is one of my responsibilities,” said Keller, a former police officer in Cove, who served as the department’s public information officer.
Killeen spokeswoman Hilary Shine said her office arranges all media interviews and is present only when the employee requests it or when the topic necessitates.
Harker Heights does not have a public information officer on staff.