Bad Behavior in the Audience
Last night, after a long absence, I attended a City Council meeting out of interest to see what might happen. I got my money’s worth in sheer entertainment from the spectacle that ensued, but that’s certainly not a good thing.
In no particular order, the evening’s festivities included one gentleman being escorted out of the lobby after the meeting by the police for an angry outburst (in reality, he had several), one speaker nearly being escorted out after nearly getting into a shouting match with Mayor Taylor during her presentation, a former councilwoman angrily attacking council and slandering another audience member and then further disrupting the meeting from her seat afterward, and a candidate for council campaigning from the podium and getting into a verbal melee with Mayor Taylor over Mrs. Taylor’s “like” of a group on Facebook that the candidate doesn’t appreciate.
Honestly, folks, is it any wonder the city has felt the need to station a police officer just to the side of the council bench?
I nearly laughed myself silly at the antics of people who purport themselves to be legitimate candidates for office behaving like small children at a playlot. I am amazed there are people who have been around council chambers for literally decades who do not know how to behave themselves. You cannot expect to be taken seriously if you won’t conduct yourself with decorum at a public meeting. You will not be a serious contender for office unless you demonstrate you have some respect for the office you seek. And you cannot complain about a Facebook page that treats you badly when it displays video of your public behavior!
In the past, I have attended council meetings and played the role of the aggrieved party. When I first started going to these meetings five years ago, I was upset about a 1.9mil tax increase proposed to take place during the depths of an economic recession. Here’s what I did: I wore a tie. I spoke respectfully to members of council. I prepared for what I was going to say, and I tried to be economical in my word choices while saying it. I was mindful of the fact that I was being watched on television by a lot of people who weren’t at the meeting. And most of all, I tried to be reasonable.
Now I did not perform perfectly at every appearance. Speaking before council is a skill that takes awhile to learn, and I am not a master of it even today. Although I try to avoid it, sometimes my comments can be ill-considered. Sometimes my emotions come out more strongly than they should. And sometimes I’m just plain wrong. It happens. I’m human like everyone else.
One thing I try to remember, though, is that the folks behind that bench are there because thousands of people like you and me voted to put them there. They are worthy of your respect because of the democratic process that put them there. Every single one of those folks beat a number of lesser candidates that voters decided did not measure up.
So the difference between my past performances and what I saw last night, in my opinion, is a matter of respect. You are free to express whatever opinion you may have, but you have to do it with respect. Respect, it seems, is a commodity in short supply as of late. It results in Facebook pages with images of the least respectful holding signs in public that depict decapitated politicians.
You and I as residents are an important part of the equation at council meetings. When we attend the meetings, we are there to represent our own interests, certainly, but we are also there serving as a check and balance. We help keep the elected folks honest and focused on what’s best for the city. When we voice an opinion, it should be understood by those behind the bench as representative of the opinions of a significant number of people who aren’t in attendance.
When you behave poorly, as several people did last night, it’s impossible for council to take you seriously. It’s impossible for the opinions of residents to truly be considered. It is counterproductive, disruptive, and just plain rude behavior to shout from your seat during a formal meeting! Don’t do that!
City Council meetings are more than just a formality. They are a legal requirement and an important part of the political process we adopted when we as a nation decided to govern ourselves, rather than accept a leader anointed because of his bloodline. In order to keep council meetings from turning into a circus, rules have had to be enacted.
When those rules fail to eliminate bad behavior, guess what happens?
We get more rules. Eventually the rules will become onerous, and it will be difficult if not impossible for residents to have a positive impact on the direction our city takes.
I fear this is on the verge of happening. I hope I am wrong.