EDITORIAL – Legislative Assembly: Laying out the ‘unwelcome’ mat

On Monday, local students convened on the floor of the Legislative Assembly to learn how the Cayman Islands government works in theory. In the outer portion of the building, a young Caymanian journalist was given a lesson in how our government works in reality.

Readers, allow us to introduce Alma Chollette. She’s the newest member of the Cayman Compass reporting staff.

The issue of Caymanian unemployment, and the lack of opportunities for bright and ambitious young Caymanians, are topics we often address within the pages of our newspaper. With that in mind, we decided to create the new position of “junior reporter” to give a young, intelligent but inexperienced Caymanian the chance to become a journalist.

From a competitive field of promising applicants, we chose Ms. Chollette, a gifted graduate of Clifton Hunter High School and UCCI. We hired her in mid-December for a full-time staff position. And we’re delighted that we did. From an employer’s perspective, things couldn’t be going better. Ms. Chollette has turned out to be a productive, enthusiastic and reliable member of our newsroom.

For the past three months, Ms. Chollette has been on the job, pursuing the time-honored tradition of learning to practice journalism by practicing it. This Monday, we dispatched her to the Legislative Assembly to cover the mock session of Youth Parliament that is held each year on Commonwealth Day.

Ms. Chollette was remarkably qualified for this assignment. Just three years ago, she herself participated in the Youth Parliament as the third elected member from Bodden Town.

Now a professional reporter, Ms. Chollette arrived at the Legislative Assembly. On her way from the entrance up to the gallery, she was waved down by Serjeant-at-Arms J. Kim Evans, a former police officer whose physical prodigiousness renders him an intimidating figure, even when he’s not trying to intimidate.

Mr. Evans demanded to know what had brought our young Caymanian reporter to the Legislative Assembly. She informed him that she works for the Compass. He insisted on seeing her media pass. She didn’t have one, she said; this was her first time here as a reporter.

Never mind that this was not an actual sitting of the Legislative Assembly. Never mind that Ms. Chollette was trying to inform the community about positive things her fellow young Caymanians were doing. Never mind that this was an event that the government invited the public to attend; or that it was being broadcast on television; or that the only reason she was being questioned was that she happened to be armed with a ballpoint pen.

No, Mr. Evans said, he will not allow her to view the Youth Parliament from the gallery.

Why? Because. That’s why.

Current House Speaker Juliana O’Connor-Connolly has, to her credit, abstained from issuing punitive policies restricting journalists’ use of cellphones, computers or recording devices. She has treated the press, and the public, with fairness and respect.

There is no indication that Ms. O’Connor-Connolly knows anything about this particular incident involving Ms. Chollette and the Serjeant-at-Arms.

But she should know — and we’re telling her now.

The Legislative Assembly must be the most open and inviting deliberative body, and building, in the Cayman Islands. “The People’s House” is no place for bullying, intimidation and obstruction.