City Hall blocks publisher’s emails
“... It should be a real concern to everyone in the media”
SHREVEPORT, La. (KSLA) — It is the Number 1 reason KSLA News 12′s Doug Warner is able to stand before viewers each night.
The very amendment that gives journalists permission to ask questions of public officials and hold them accountable.
The First Amendment.
But a local publisher and columnist was blocked. The City of Shreveport prevented his emails from reaching anyone with the city — from the mayor to council members to the city attorney. Basically, anyone he has to right to reach out to.
Warner confirmed with the city that this went on for nearly two weeks until Warner reached out to the city Tuesday, May 17.
You may not always agree with what he writes.
And when asked whether he has ruffled some feathers, John Settle responded: “Of course. In the media, if you’re doing a good job, you’re going to. That’s part of it.”
As a local owner and publisher of Focus SB and the Inquisitor. he covers local government — oftentimes at city council meetings — on both sides of the Red River in both Bossier City and Shreveport.
“I just believe in good government,” Settle said.
But a few days ago, he noticed that emails he traditionally sends to some council members, other elected officials and the city attorney asking questions or to make public records requests were being blocked.
“Some started bouncing.”
A test email to Councilman Grayson Boucher on Tuesday — blocked.
And when KSLA News 12′s Doug Warner talked with Councilman Jerry Bowman on Tuesday, he said his inbox hadn’t shown an email from Settle since May 4.
“When you start denying the media access to ask reasonable questions, to make public records requests, to make reasonable communications, then we have a problem,” Settle said. “... It should be a real concern to everyone in the media.”
And then there’s the email that Settle was copied on that proves it.
City attorney Ron Lattier, asking the city’s IT director Keith Hanson if he knew if someone blocked Settle, and he responded with “yes,” that he had blocked Settle from communicating via email with every single city employee until he could figure out how to only block emails to the person who made the request.
And it’s the same answer he gave Warner after Warner emailed Hanson on Tuesday. Hanson claimed he did it at the request of a city council member, but he wouldn’t identify who.
Settle said his recent publications have taken aim at city leadership, including a council member. But the only emails they would be getting from him are the same newsletters and commentary that fill up Warner’s inbox at KSLA News 12. And that can be fixed with a simple click.
“It’s easy, on there you have an unsubscribe button,” Settle explained.
As of news time Wednesday, even after asking a second time, neither Hanson nor anyone else with the city had told Warner who made the request nor why.
And even though Hanson said the block was lifted Tuesday, Settle said his emails are still bouncing back.
Councilmen Grayson Boucher and John Nickelson put out a joint news release Wednesday that reads, in part, that they had no knowledge of this and that they strongly disapprove of it. They also said that elected officials can choose not to respond, but they have no right to silence their critics.
Councilwoman LeVette Fuller also reacted to the situation on Facebook, stating: “As a consistent advocate for transparency and public access to information I oppose the blocking of constituents from our city council email. It’s disappointing that it has to even be stated. The easiest way for constituents to get in touch with us is email. Most of our emails are a matter of public record. If the city would deny access to us directly, there’s reason to believe other information requested by the public could be delayed or blocked even though access to public records is a legal entitlement to citizens. A technical issue is forgivable but an intentional block of a citizen is unacceptable.”
Councilman Boucher also posted on Facebook about the situation: “There has been a lot of talk over the last 24 hours about a local member of the media being blocked from the city email system. I strongly disagree with this practice. Any citizen and any member of the media should have direct access to their government, regardless is we agree or disagree. We are elected to serve. That service includes everyone, even those we may disagree with.”
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