A heated debate about communications pitted St. John's Mayor Dennis O'Keefe against a member of council, with the city accused of putting up a new barrier between officials and the public. 

A city policy calls on journalists to go through the communications department if they want to speak with a councillor or a member of staff. 

Coun. Art Puddister said the two-year-old policy should be scrapped, even though it is not enforced. Many journalists still arrange interviews directly with council. 

"I personally believe that the media should have open access to council and our staff directly," Puddister told Monday evening's council meeting. 

"I don't think they should have to go through this process of having to go through the manager of communications." 

'Patently incorrect'

O'Keefe, who at one point during the debate ruled Puddister out of order for speaking while another councillor was deemed to have the floor, defended the policy. 

"The whole idea is to increase accessibility, and it's patently incorrect for you to say what you've said," O'Keefe said. 

"You clearly do not understand the change that was made." 

The debate was held on the eve of the city's announcement that the contract for city manager Bob Smart was not being renewed. Smart oversaw a wide-ranging reorganization of the city's administration. The communications department is part of the recently crafted Office of Strategy and Engagement.