We can restore small-town civic values that enable robust but reasoned discussion and debate in the public commons. That’s the proven remedy when afflicted with chronic civic strife and intolerance for diversity of thought and belief.
For real civility, we must look behind the mere appearance of it. Just as some political leaders and members of the public at times become uncivil, government bodies often perpetrate incivility. Adversary reaction in kind by the community too often follows.
For example, was it civility for an appointed Design Review Board chair to tell a young father who needed bedrooms for a growing family that his application for a second floor would have been approved, if another second floor had not been approved for a neighbor elsewhere on the same street a few months earlier?
In the real world of civic law, DRB actually had the burden of justification for not treating two property owners the same. But in the warped reality of unbridled discretion and official incivility, the DRB shifted the burden of justification to the applicant.
Fearing even more restrictions if perceived as confrontational, that applicant was exceedingly civil, the kind of submissive citizen that the DRB seems to expect—expectations citizens defy at their own peril. It struck me that DRB was acting as surrogate for City Council, yet there were no institutionalized government civility standards to make it safe for a property owner to object in a civil but strenuous manner to what arguably was a blatant denial of equal protection under law.
Similarly, was it civility when the School Board used taxpayer funded public communications and school resources to support production of a professional video slanderously ridiculing a diverse unaffiliated group of parents in the STEM professions opposing a School Board math curriculum experiment (that later failed as the parents predicted)? Was it civility for residents opposing School Board incivility to be flagrantly denied public comment on Board agenda items in violation of state law?
The mayor’s civility initiative is welcome, an overdue start of open dialogue on restoring real civility in local government. Selective compliance by the local governing bodies and as well as discriminatory enforcement must be addressed, because rules have efficacy only if administered with integrity and civility by a governing culture that demands official as well as public civility.
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