What’s more important – a city’s image or its openness?

I haven’t been this excited about a public records debate in a LOOONG time. I just read the most fascinating article in The Rocky Mount Telegram (Rocky Mount, N.C.) called “Police e-mail alerts bad for city’s image?

Last year, Rocky Mount police Capt. Laura Fahnestock developed a program called “e-policing,” which provides the public and the media with daily e-mail alerts of crimes in the city. The program has helped police solve several crimes in recent months, according to the newspaper.

But, the daily crime e-mails are putting a damper on the city’s new public relations campaign. The city is trying to improve its image, and some officials think the crime alerts are just accentuating the negative.

Mayor David Combs said he thinks the media (including WRAL.com where I work as a web editor) is abusing the information.

The Rocky Mount Telegram reports that “of the last 50 stories referencing Rocky Mount on www.wral.com, 44 were crime reports, mostly e-policing re-writes. Other Raleigh TV news stations and WITN-TV in Greenville also have reported a higher number of Rocky Mount crime stories since joining the e-mail list.”

Councilman Andre Knight said he wants the city to stop sending the e-mails to the public and media and only send it to department heads and city officials. “Knight said the alerts provide ammunition for people to beat up city officials, even as local crime rates are on the decline,” according to the newspaper article.

I guess the city has to decide which is more important – its image or its openness. Maybe there’s a compromise in there somewhere. Either way, this is a debate that I will definitely follow. For all my public relations and journalism friends out there, what do you think should happen? How would you handle this dilemma?

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