Civility

I want to talk about something that gets a lot of lip-service these days, but we never seem to quite internalize the actual behavior: Civility.

It has a nice ring to it: “let’s be civil,” “we need to treat each other civilly,” “councilors will treat attendees and each other with respect and civility.”

One of the things that I expect in my leaders, is that they set the behavior example for those of us who elected or appointed them. Civility and respect are a pair; it’s pretty hard to practice one if you do not feel the other.

As a constituent, as staff in government agencies, and now as an elected official, I’ve learned respect and civility are the two characteristics that will most keep offices running smoothly and our constituents – the public – you, my neighbors, happy. You may not always like or agree with what I say, but you, I hope, know that I’m making every effort to give you all of the help and information I am able.

When I told my old boss I was running for Carlton city council, he gave me one piece of advice he’d received from his predecessor when he was first elected mayor of his small city: “People won’t always remember what you said. But they will ALWAYS remember how you made them feel.”

On Carlton’s council, and in our city, the mayor is our presumptive “leader.” He or she represents the city at outside events, serves as host or master of ceremonies at city events, and generally becomes the “face” of the city. As such, the mayor becomes the model for desirable behavior. This is even more important these days, given the poor behavior we are seeing in so many of our state and national leaders.

I’ve watched with surprise, chagrin, and finally disappointment as time and again, our mayor has remained silent while citizens asking questions have been given half answers, been condescended to, and have sat at meetings with staffs’ backs to them, absorbing the implication that they do not matter – and yes, that is what citizens have noticed and internalized: They are not welcome at the council meetings and are simply a necessary annoyance.

And when you’re the mayor – the person who sets the tone for the city, you cannot allow your personal biases to influence your decisions. No matter how much you may dislike (or like) an individual, may it be a councilor, a neighbor, or a vendor, you, more than anyone else, cannot allow your personal biases to influence your behavior – yet this has happened time and again since I’ve been on the council. I’ve watched in dismay as the behavior seems to be getting more open and more aggressive.

I want to be clear: Such behavior is not universal, it never is; but for the individuals who have felt that disdain, whose concerns and questions have been dismissed or ignored, it’s a feeling they will not quickly forget. It’s one of the main reasons I’ve chosen to run for mayor.

I don’t claim to be perfect or love everybody, but that one comment from my old boss is always with me: People may not always remember what you said. But they will always remember how you made them feel.

I may not always agree with your position or your concerns, but I will always attempt to treat each of you with courtesy and respect…with civility.

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