“Decorum” according to Webster means “propriety or good taste in behavior”.
There’s not a lot of “decorum” at many of today’s public meetings. Undoubtedly it is because more and more citizens with differences involving public officials seem to believe that rudeness in speech and actions are needed to make their arguments and win people to their point of view. During a recent city council meeting a person addressing the council about a concern gave the mayor and council members “the finger” as the exclamation mark to show disrespect to the public officials!
It seems that “free speech” and “the right to be heard” have escalated to the point that elected officials, like members of the city council, are targets of foul-mouthed rhetoric and obscene gestures as some citizens show intended disrespect to the elected public body. We have laws against hate speech, but what about “hateful speech” that seems to be raising its ugly head at public meetings all too often these days? Is it any wonder that fewer people are running for public office — especially at the local level.
Only four people are running for three expiring city council seats: two are incumbents, one is a former member of council and one is present a member of the county board. That means that no candidate is running that has not served time on either the city council or county board. Former councilman Pat McDaniel is running again for council despite the fact that he was a major target of disrespectful rhetoric from some citizens appearing before council when Pat was a member. A major reason that Pat is running is because no one else could be talked into running for a council seat so Pat stepped in to fill the void. He is to be commended for stepping up when he knows what being a councilman involves — especially the harsh criticism and personal attacks of this era in which we live.
• SO, WHO is in charge of making sure that city council meetings are held with decorum, or good taste? That’s the responsibility of the mayor who has the gavel and chairs the council meetings. In fact, during the years I served as mayor, it was clearly stated in the responsibilities of the office that the mayor has the responsibility to conduct the city council meetings “with decorum”.
I always tried to balance a person’s right to express his or her views to the council with the decorum that should be present when they are making those presentations. I don’t recall ever having to use the gavel to stop someone from speaking, but I did tell a few who appeared and got a little carried away with their comments, that their presentation was finished.
• ONE REASON the “Appearance of Citizens” was moved from the last item on the agenda to the first, is that people who came to address council would have to sometimes sit for a couple of hours before the other part of the council meeting was finished and they could have their say. By that time, some had so much frustration built up that they were angry by the time they finally were able to address council! Not only that, but sometimes, they would speak up on items relating to other city business (probably to break the monotony of waiting to speak at the end of the meeting) and that caused some awkward moments. Moving the “Appearance of Citizens” to the first item also meant the mayor and council members would get “told off” and get it over with, instead of knowing what was coming last when the rest of the meeting was completed first. Looking out and seeing a few angry citizens in the audience who were going to speak at the end of the meeting was somewhat like waiting to be executed in two hours!
• MAYOR JULIE Moore Wolfe sits in the same chair I occupied during the council meetings for the years I served and probably has the same gavel that I had. I think, overall, she has probably teen more tolerant during the appearance of citizens, and in conducting the meetings in general, than I was when I served. Although I certainly had some “characters” who came forward on a regular basis to address council, times have changed along with the attitudes of some who address the council today.
Chairing the council meetings today is more difficult, in my opinion, because of the tone and manner of a lot of public speech. There are only a few of us still around who had the “privilege” of holding that gavel and chairing the meetings of the city council and each one of us, during our time in office, had similarities and differences in the way we conducted the meetings.
I think, because of the climate of “politics” in today’s nation, Mayor Moore Wolfe has one of the tougher assignments in conducting city council meetings, especially the “Appearance of Citizens” portion, with “decorum”. Under the guise of “freedom of speech” there is a lot of verbiage pointed at public bodies these days that doesn’t fit within the boundaries of “good taste”.
• CONGRATS! I know the Municipal Election isn’t until April 4, but Mayor Moore Wolfe has already won re-election to another term. Her two opponents got thrown off the ballot during a hearing at the civic center Monday morning. A three-person panel unanimously sustained objections filed against mayoral candidates Abeer Motan and Mary Williams. Neither met the 85 valid signature threshold required for placement on the ballot. That was no surprise. Both candidates had a limited number of signatures over 85 and when some of the signatures did not meet the standard for acceptance, the two candidates failed to make the ballot. As I have mentioned several times in this column in recent months, those seeking public office should have plenty of extra signatures over what is required. Mayor Moore Wolfe had about double the number needed.
• NO SURPRISE. Decatur School Board members Andrew Taylor and Regan Lewis are not running for re-election despite both being in their first terms and Taylor being the president of the board. That decision by the most experienced members of the board speaks to what I wrote about earlier in this column. One-term and out has become the “normal” time of service for incoming, elected school board members. Serving on the Decatur School Board is one of the most thankless positions a local elected official can seek. The constant criticism and accusations by upset parents and other members of the public are not good for anyone’s digestive system.
Anyone interested in running for the school board has through Monday, Dec. 19th to file nominating petitions with the Macon County Clerk. To qualify for the school board, an individual must be, as of the date of election: a United States citizen; a resident of the state of Illinois and of the school district for at least one year preceding election; at least 18 years of age; a registered voter; and not a school trustee. A minimum of 50 signatures on a petition to run are required to file to be on the ballot.
Monday morning at 8:00 sharp, four candidates for the three positions up for election on the school board were on hand to file their petitions with the Macon County Clerk. They were Bill Clevenger, Will Wetzel, Jacob Jenkins and Mark Reynolds. Later on Monday, Misty Fronk filed petitions for a board seat.
• I JOIN Brian Byers on WSOY’s Byers & Co. at 7:00 every Thursday morning for the City Hall Insider. I always enjoy our discussion about issues and people in our community and beyond.