New Brunswick

Saint John mayor claims Irving demanded city hall changes

Coverage of Saint John municipal politics in New Brunswick's' provincial newspaper would change if the city were to lower taxes and replace the city manager, Mayor Ivan Court says he was told by the Telegraph-Journal publisher.

Coverage of Saint John municipal politics in New Brunswick's' provincial newspaper would change if the city were to lower taxes and replace the city manager, Mayor Ivan Court says he was told by the Telegraph-Journal publisher.

Court's remarks, made at last Monday's common council meeting, are the latest in a tense public relationship between the mayor and the Telegraph-Journal, which is based in Saint John.

A private meeting at City Hall with the newspaper's leaders was requested by city staff to discuss city issues and the coverage of them. The meeting, a couple of months ago, was attended by Court, then city manager Terry Totten, Telegraph-Journal publisher Jamie Irving and the newspaper's senior editorial staff. 

"I and our former manager met Jamie Irving and his editorial staff in the manager's office. And we were told that unless we did what they wanted, they would continue what you see daily in the paper. And we saw the result of that: We no longer have a city manager," Court said.

What Court said the editorial board wanted was lower taxes and Totten to step aside.

Totten, who had served as city manager since 1993, resigned on June 15, citing negative coverage by the paper. As a severance package, Totten received a one-time payment of $500,000, as well as a supplementary pension of $16,000 per year.

Irving, editor Shawna Richer and managing editor Ron Barry all refused to return phone calls from the CBC to say how they interpreted the meeting.

Demand changes in editorials: prof

Chris Waddell, the associate director of Carleton University's School of Journalism and Communications in Ottawa, said it's not unusual for a newspaper to demand changes at city hall but it should be done in an editorial, not in closed-door meetings.

"Newspapers have taken, traditionally, strong positions on a variety of political and public policy issues. So there's nothing wrong, I don't think, with a newspaper, or newspaper editor, saying they think someone should lose their job or something should change or something else should happen," Waddell said.

"It's best if that's done on the editorial page of the paper in an editorial, so then readers can determine what to think of the stories that are written on the issue, once they know what the newspaper's editorial position is."

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