GALVESTON — Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas on Monday ordered all city employees not to talk to news reporters. She did not say when that order would be lifted.
Thomas and City Manager Steve LeBlanc will be the only officials allowed to talk to reporters.
City spokeswoman Mary Jo Naschke vehemently denied the city was trying to clamp down on news coverage.
She said emergency personnel and city employees were too busy to talk to reporters. Naschke also said the city had been accommodating news reporters by allowing them access to the island when others weren’t allowed, giving them escorted rides to damaged areas and allowing them to move about outside during a curfew.
But at a noon press conference on Monday, Thomas and LeBlanc talked for less than 30 minutes and refused to answer any more than five questions. Thomas said she would try to hold another press conference Tuesday.
Daily News reporters who tried to speak to city employees at rescue sites were denied information and told no one was authorized to talk to them except for the mayor and city manager.
“It’s the worst thing the city could do. Those who will suffer most are evacuees,” Publisher Dolph Tillotson said in statement via text message from the island. “The media will have to turn to other sources that might be less reliable. I can’t imagine a dumber move under these extreme circumstances.”
Before the press conference started Monday, LeBlanc asked reporters whether he could go off the record. Some television crews agreed and turned their cameras off. LeBlanc then asked news crews to urge their bosses and managers to show more coverage of the island on television because evacuees didn’t care about what was happening in Houston.
All reporters who were staying at the city’s emergency operations center, stationed at the San Luis Hotel, were asked to leave Monday. San Luis hotel owner Tilman Fertitta was housing reporters at the nearby Hilton Hotel, which he also owns.
Reporters would be allowed on the island, but only if they had proper identification, Thomas said. She didn’t clarify what that meant.
Reporters were also forbidden from visiting areas on the far West End of FM 3005, Thomas said. She did not explain why.