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Indio officials concerned with city’s reputation, suggest sharing less info with media to improve public opinion

Watch: Bonus Q & A with News Channel 3's John White:

On Tuesday, Indio city staff members reviewed a draft of 'the city's strategic plan into 2024', discussing goals and improvements they plan to make. The conversation turned to ways Indio can improve its reputation and what the media should have access to.

“If it’s something that pertains to safety or road construction or things of that nature yes by all means we need to put that out but there are some things that maybe need to stay in-house,” said Indio Mayor Waymond Fermon.

City staff also discussed the definition of transparency.

“Sometimes transparency doesn’t mean just putting everything out...it may be just it’s available if you request it,” Fermon said.

Councilmember Lupe Ramos Amith suggested that all public requests should go through a city clerk, eliminating direct communication between media and police.

“I’m trying to make a point that, you know, the left foot is shooting the right foot and there’s no coordination. I think it’s adding to the negative perception of our public safety,” Ramos Amith said.

Indio Police Chief Mike Washburn also chimed in.

“Our media is frankly lazy. Our media doesn’t really go after stories, they really ask us to write them ourselves almost. So, we’re not pushing anything out just cause we know about it."

- indio police chief mike washburn

Ramos Amith suggested the city simply not respond to media requests about certain crimes.

 “Why do we have to answer?," Ramos Amith said.

"Just say we have no comment?," asks one city staff member.

"We have no comment just like the Sheriff," Ramos Amith replies.

The conversation continues.

“If it occurs in the public, it’s hard to hide it. I don’t know why you would shy away from that. It goes to our integrity and transparency," Washburn said.

“It goes to the negative perception,” Ramos Amith replies.

News Channel 3's Madison Weil spoke with Fermon the day after to get his thoughts on the discussion.

“Working on positive PR is one thing...but choosing to not answer or to say ‘no comment’ as a strategy when we’re talking about crime happening in the community I’d argue that’s borderline dishonest...and that prevents us from doing our job...so I’m hoping there’s a way to prevent that from being the path moving forward,” Weil said to Fermon.

“My take on that is, being that I worked in law enforcement. I believe that we should have a PIO [Public Information Officer] for our police department,” Fermon replied.  

Fermon was sworn in as mayor on Wednesday. He said he hopes to keep communication channels open.

“We’re looking at things but as far as I see it, I think the best way we have it is now. I really want to work on the communications and relationships with our local media," Fermon said.

This is not the first time media access has been discussed. A few years ago there was a debate over whether or not media should have access to police scanners. Weil brought this up in her conversation with Fermon, pointing out that if news organizations cannot listen to scanners to hear what is happening, and additionally can no longer rely on police to answer questions in the event of breaking news, it will be incredibly challenging to get important information out to the community.

Fermon reminded Weil that he was in favor of the media retaining their access to scanners when that debate was ongoing years ago. He says during his time as mayor, he plans to communicate openly with the press: “History will show that I do support working with the media," Fermon said. "As mayor I’m going to make sure that we really work on those relationships with the news...and the things that we need to get out we’ll get out as effectively as we can.”

Watch Madison's full interview with Fermon below:

You can watch the complete discussion during Tuesday's meeting below:

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Madison Weil

Madison Weil joined the KESQ News Channel 3 and CBS Local 2 News Team in June 2018. Learn more about Madison here.

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