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Stemming Violence During Public Meetings

Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2010

 The recent shooting incident at a Florida school board meeting shook me up.

As mayor, I faced many a hostile audience, but never really imagined that there would be violence. (Our meetings were televised, but that is no assurance of good behavior.)

Most local municipalities and special districts don't have security at every meeting. I can only remember one time we had anyone in uniform at a council meeting, and that was to keep the crowd from violating the fire marshal's "maximum occupancy" rules.

The disturbing behavior of the shooter was probably due to his unstable mental state, but it highlights for me the importance of allowing full, open, and honest discussion with constituents, and maintaining decorum.

Some individuals who attend public meetings are downright angry when they walk in the door, and the way they are treated can either escalate their fury or ease it.

Here are a few of my rules:

  • Show respect for everyone - colleagues, speakers, and the audience.
  • Listen carefully, and take notes if necessary to make sure  you understand the issues.
  • Speak honestly and stick to the issue at hand.
  • Engage in dialog, not monologue, in coming to your decision.
  • Explain your decision and the action you are taking in understandable terms -- don't be tempted to use acronyms others might not understand,
  • Accept the outcome gracefully, even if it is not the one you wanted.

Do you have other items for the list? Post them and share your best practices!


Tags: civility, decorum, Florida, school boards

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