Imagine you get a knock at the door and open it to find Barack Obama, asking to talk to you as just a private citizen.

Do you talk about the series finale of “Breaking Bad” or do you discuss National Security Agency spying, Obamacare and Congressional gridlock? More importantly, at any point, do you believe you’re not talking to the president of the United States?

Sedona City Councilwoman Barbara LitrellSedona City Councilman Dan McIlroy and Councilwoman Barbara Litrell are asking Sedona residents to believe this fiction. At a council meeting on Feb. 11, McIlroy and Litrell told council of their plans to call Goldwater Institute lawyer Clint Bollock the next morning to ask for advice on an ongoing matter.

“We’re not calling in behalf of the council, we’re calling as council members, but in the know we’re only speaking for ourselves and not for the council,” McIlroy said.

Sedona City Councilman Dan McIlroy“As residents of the city of Sedona,” Litrell added. “We are not calling as councilors … we are calling as residents of Sedona, we are not representing council or staff.”

If only it were that easy.

In 2008, New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer could have said he was hiring call girl Ashley Dupré as a private citizen. He could have paid his fine for solicitation and kept his job as governor.

The crack-smoking Mayor of Toronto Rob Ford can now smoke cocaine at leisure — after all, he can now do it as a private citizen, not as mayor of Canada’s largest city.

Christopher Fox Graham - ANAFortunately, Sedona Mayor Rob Adams saw through the ploy and asked Litrell and McIlroy if they planned to even identify themselves as council members.

If Litrell and McIlroy were indeed calling as private citizens, they should never have even mentioned to Bollock what offices they held. Would the advice Bollock offered to Joe Blow and Jane Doe be same as that for council members? Would Goldwater Institute lawyers even schedule a meeting with two strangers off the street had they not been council members?

Are my reporters and I allowed access to elected officials, celebrities and accident scenes due to our wit, charm and striking physiques? Or are we allowed access because of our job titles and implied promise of stories for 10,000 readers?

“While I serve on City Council, I am not calling on behalf of city council or staff, I am calling as a concerned resident of Sedona,” Litrell said. Litrell then asked City Attorney Mike Goimarac if the fiction was “adequate.”

The delineation may be “adequate,” but it is certainly not ethical for a councilwoman.

If my reporters call a source and do not immediately identify themselves as reporters, it is an ethical violation in our business. If they speak “off the record” with a source, nothing they glean from that conversation can ever be quoted or used in a story.

Likewise, if Litrell and McIlroy hold to the fiction that they can suddenly be private citizens without also being council members, they cannot ethically speak from the City Council bench about the meeting. They did not gain the information in an official capacity, thus, they cannot then turn around and use it in an official capacity. They should sit in the audience as residents during the entire debate and only be allowed three minutes at the public podium — just like every other private citizen who they claim to be. Of course, the rest of council can’t ignore the fact that the duo are still council members.

Even more, now that we know Litrell and McIlroy have an agenda, how can other private citizens possibly believe logical, public debate could sway their opinions? What’s the point of a having a council if its members remove themselves from their elected role and act as private citizens when it suits them and not in our community’s best interests?

Christopher Fox Graham

Managing Editor