I found it interesting that the Illinois Municipal League (IML) announced a Civility Pledge at its Spring Board of Directors meeting last week. The pledge seeks to restore civility in local governments, encourage productive dialogue and build public trust in all of Illinois’ 1,295 cities, villages and towns. IML stated: “A growing need for civility has become more relevant and significant at all levels of government, but especially at the local level. Residents and elected officials are often faced with challenging and complex issues that can spark strong emotions and create conflict. Adopting the pledge and putting civility at the forefront provides a foundation for effective community conversations.”
The pledge reads, “In the interest of civility, I pledge to promote civility by listening, being respectful of others, acknowledging that we are all striving to support and improve our community and understanding that we each may have different ideas for achieving that objective.”
There is little doubt that a growing lack of civility has been present in meetings involving many local governing bodies, not only in Decatur and Macon County, but across Illinois and the nation. The lack of respect shown by more than a few people for the mayor and city council, the Decatur School Board, and some other governing bodies, is much more prevalent today than during some earlier periods in this community’s history. That is one of the reasons it is difficult to find good candidates to run for local public office these days. People can, and do, disagree with public officials on issues, but that disagreement shouldn’t include a lack of civility when views are being discussed or debated.
• IT”S BEEN 20 years since I was sworn in for my first term as mayor of Decatur and, during the years that followed in that position, I chaired hundreds of meetings and, with all of the disagreements between myself, council members and residents who came before us, to discuss and debate the issues, I don’t recall having to use the gavel to restore order at a council or any other meeting. Back then, it was enough for me to verbally control the meetings with “decorum” even though some people who appeared before us were less than pleased with the reaction they received. I was fortunate to serve in public office at a time when most people were “civil” and were able to state their views without being “nasty” or “rude” about it.
• MIKE “Tuna” McElroy, who served on council during the years I served as mayor, and was elected mayor in the next election after I left office, always told me that he liked it when I was conducting the meeting and took off my glasses and starred at someone who was disagreeing with me. “The stare” was pretty effective, but I never told anybody, until now, that I actually took off my reading glasses so that I could see the person who was being disagreeable more clearly!
• MAYORS and other public officials face a somewhat different constituency than the one I faced, for the most part, years ago in the council chambers. Although some “rudeness” existed back then, it was the exception, not the rule, as it is in many public meetings when controversial issues arise involving boards, commissions and councils. Local public officials are verbally abused and, sometimes there is not even a pretense, of wanting to present meaningful views.
Some who appear before public bodies just want to tell off public officials! When it comes to Decatur City Council meetings, under our form of government, the mayor is the only one with the gavel (whether or not it is used) and in charge of how little, or how much, goes on at a council meeting. Maintaining “decorum” and “civility” is more difficult these days as respect for others has diminished.
• THE Illinois Municipal League’s “Civility Pledge” announced last week is certainly needed, as long as everyone is willing to be “civil” — both officeholders and members of the public. Hopefully, no one will appear before the city council angrily opposing the “Civility Pledge” and acting in an “uncivil” way! Considering what’s been happening across our nation in recent years, and how “uncivil” many people are to each other, it may be too much to expect that they will be “civil” to public officials they don’t like or with whom they have a serious disagreement. Prayers for our mayor and council that “civility” will prevail in future meetings.
• FORMER City Councilman Bill Faber has some reflections on his recently completed eight years on council in his column “The Faber File” on page 7 of this week’s print and online editions.. I think you will find Bill’s comments interesting.
• COUNCILMAN Dennis R. Cooper who was recently elected to a full four-year term has a “Thank You” ad on page 14 of this week’s print and online editions. That’s a nice touch to his election victory. We usually receive a lot of political ads during a campaign, but, not too often do we have a candidate run a “Thank You” ad when the election is over. It is kind of refreshing.
Congratulations to Councilman Cooper, Councilwoman Lisa Gregory and returning Councilman Patrick McDaniel, plus Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe on being elected to serve four year terms on council. Hopefully, the years will be filled with “civility”.
• NICE SURPRISE! Kathy Fleener Grover, who worked for me here at the Tribune for eleven years from the 1970s until 1983 when she moved out of state to be near the love of her life and future husband, came to the Tribune office last Wednesday and it was a great surprise! I had not seen Kathy in 40 years and it was so nice to catch up on what’s been happening in her life.
She never forgot my golden rule admonition when I hired her: “If you call in sick, you’d better be dead!” I don’t think she ever missed a day in the eleven years she worked here. I’ve known Kathy her entire life and she comes from a great family I’ve also known my whole life. Kathy also said that she retained the habit of always shaking the door using the door knob when she leaves her place of work or home…just to make sure it is locked. She tells everyone, when they ask why, that’s what her first boss (me) always did.
Guess what? I still shake the door knob to make sure the Tribune office is locked if I’m the last one out! How many times in 54 years have I found the door unlocked? None! Hey! There’s always a first time!
Anyhooo, it was great to see Kathy and be reminded of those important “work rules” she learned from me at the Tribune and which present employees know all too well and repeat in a humorous way. (Big Smile)
• TRASH TALKING — My “Viewpoint” column in this week’s print and online editions of the Tribune is about a frustrating experience in dealing with something as simple as a “trash tote” from a new trash pick-up service. Check it out for some “Trash Talking” in the real sense.
• GO GREEN — It’s been so nice to look out my office windows on the fourth floor of the Millikin Court Building and see all the green that has started appearing on the downtown trees and those in the west end of our city. Spring has been a little slow in coming, but there are indications (between frost warnings) that better days are ahead. I don’t think there’s ever been a year when I can remember so many windy days! State Street is the name of the street immediately behind our building and, so many times, when I exit the back door and head for the parking lot it reminds me of State Street in the Windy City of Chicago — it’s really windy!
Considering the difficulty of publishing and delivering the Tribune on some Wednesdays during the winter months because of snow and ice, this past winter has been no problem in interfering with newspaper production — except for that slippery bridge that wiped out our newspaper van last November! Overall, I think we’ve had a pretty good winter in terms of very little ice and snow. It’s probably not been good for snow removal companies.
• I JOIN Brian Byers on WSOY’s Byers & Co. every Thursday morning at 7:00 for the City Hall Insider — something we’ve been doing for the past 20 years.