Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Civility Makes the Difference

From contentious city council meetings to personal attacks on social media, the idea of keeping things civil in local government has grown more difficult over the years. For that reason, the Municipal Association of South Carolina’s board of directors identified restoring civility in local government as a top priority for the Association’s ongoing work. 

Civility is a key theme among the Association’s speakers, workshops and other materials, all aimed at helping local leaders listen, learn and deescalate heated situations. The Association’s website now offers a variety of civility resources, from articles to podcasts and a civility pledge. 

Municipal Association President and Aiken Mayor Rick Osbon described the willingness of cities and towns to restore civility, to “take a pledge to treat each other and the community with respect and civility,” as something that can drive municipal government success, and even economic development success. Association Executive Director Todd Glover, in a recent opinion column, expressed hope that “our local governments can lead the way in repairing our broken discourse. We can chart a course back to governing without malice. We can disagree without being disagreeable.” 

Civility resolution 

The Association created a sample resolution for city and town councils to use when formally pledging to practice and promote civility. The resolution notes that debate and self-expression “are fundamental rights and essential components of democratic self-governance,” and provides a pledge for the members of council to “recognize their special role in modeling open, free and vigorous debate while maintaining the highest standards of civility, honesty and mutual respect.” There is also a branded version of the sample resolution that can be displayed at city hall. 

Personal pledge 

The civility pledge is also available in a short form that municipalities can use as a reminder at the top of meeting agendas, or as something to review at the beginning of meetings, to emphasize the importance of civil behavior for everyone present. Here’s the pledge: 

“I pledge to build a stronger and more prosperous community by advocating for civil engagement, respecting others and their viewpoints, and finding solutions for the betterment of my city or town.” 

Pillars of Civility 

Other elements of the Association’s project are the Pillars of Civility, a list of key ideas for elected officials and staff to use when making local government as effective, inclusive and courteous as possible. The pillars can be useful to jumpstart conversations about civility.