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Respecting Citizens Shows Respect for Democratic Process

Friday, Sep. 17, 2010

In some cities, council meetings are more like bad reality TV than than legislative deliberation.

Residents of Vancouver, Washington are struggling to understand why a councilwoman, who teaches mediation and leadership classes to public officials, could show such disrespect for the public and her council colleagues.

At the Ethics Center we often say "Model the behavior you wish to see in others." This is especially true for public officials, whose actions are  scrutinized (and televised), and who set the tone for civil discourse in public meetings.

The public has a right to speak, even if what they say is unpopular. Elected officials have a responsibility to listen, even if they disagree.

Running a council meeting during a heated debate requires skill, patience, and judicious use of the gavel. And when things begin to get out of control, calling for a recess -- time out --can be an effective strategy.


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