Civility starts at home
July 24, 2015
OPINION By JULIE TACKER
In his most recent regular Tribune column, political campaign consultant Tom Fulks asks, “Who would take issue with civility?” He points a finger at COLAB and the “the usual assortment of gripers who routinely abuse the public comment period to wage personal wars against anyone they believe victimizes them in one form or another.”
As he repeatedly does, Fulks marginalizes and insults the participants at county public meetings. Perhaps he’s jealous of COLAB Executive Director Mike Brown’s, ability to inspire speakers to study the issues, take time off work and make their way to meeting rooms week after week to speak up and shape decisions.
Fulks’ biweekly column reaches driveways and mailboxes across this county; yet few who support his position on the issues actually attend or participate in these meetings.
Fulks mischaracterizes the recent adoption of a resolution on civil discourse authored by the San Luis Obispo County League of Women Voters (LWV). The LWV commits themselves “to building a civil political community in which each person is respected and spirited public and political debate is aimed at the betterment of San Luis Obispo County and its people and not the disparagement of those with whom we disagree.”
Fulks called it a “symbolic resolution doing nothing more than asking people to be nice and stay on topic when addressing elected bodies.”
Maybe Fulks should have listened to the entire item. Near the end of the board’s discussion, County Counsel Rita Neal explained that the board was “simply to approve a resolution, which essentially supports civility and civil discourse, you aren’t passing an ordinance.
You aren’t changing the law, the First Amendment remains strongly in tact today regardless of your passing this resolution. You’re not requiring each person who walks into the chambers to sign this resolution. Certainly there’s no enforcement mechanism and no consequence; but you’re supporting the awareness and encouragement of civil discourse, you’re not making a law.”
Resolutions are intended to set policy. In my opinion, a resolution is a promise. These promises are broken in the SLO County Board of Supervisors chambers all the time.
As evidenced just two weeks post signing of the civil discourse resolution. The ink barely dry on the document and Mr. Fulks’ Sunday column now lining the bird cage, the board hadn’t gotten through the consent calendar (the first order of business) when Supervisor Gibson lost his cool and raised his voice; scolding his fellow board members who chose to postpone an important water item to allow for more public participation. Any semblance of civil discourse from the District 2 supervisors was out the window.
Citizens from all walks of life enter meeting chambers around this great country every day. Fulks suggests the LWV “felt compelled to intervene” here in San Luis Obispo County, particularly at the Board of Supervisors.
However, a quick search of the LWV website reveals that the study of civil discourse is a statewide mission among the LWV and our county’s chapter is simply participating.
Ironically, where I’ve seen the most egregious display of incivility has been from select board members who sit at the dais. Elected officials, the people we put there, who have wrongly taken it upon themselves to write late night letters to the editor, bark from the dais, and engage a hired political consultant (Fulks) to use his newspaper column to denigrate, marginalize, label, and name-call at speakers they disagree with.
Over my many years of participating at the Board of Supervisors meetings, I can only think of a handful of instances where citizens have been truly “uncivil” but, I’m not a judge and respectfully suggest neither is Fulks. These passionate citizens have the right to express themselves any way they wish. The way they are treated and often antagonized from the dais elevates their delivery to what one might consider “uncivil.” It isn’t much to ask that the board members themselves lead by example and behave civilly.
Civility starts at home, the board signed the resolution put forth by the LWV, let’s see that they, and Fulks, live by it and then watch how the citizens respond in kind.