Have you ever watched a town council meeting, or any other public meeting, and thought “What’s needed here is more decorum and restraint”?  I certainly haven’t.  In fact, the unanimity of the councilors on almost every issue and the complete lack of critical debate during their meetings often concern me. 

Be that as it may, the councilors met last night and voted to adopted a new code of conduct for themselves and all future members.  The code was presented to the council by Kathleen Hill who’s been working on the project for over a year now. (For more on the ethic code’s history, click here.)  Though the text was not made readily available to the public, Ms. Hill stated that it consisted of a page and a half of rules.  These rules regulate a councilor’s behavior when interacting with the community, the council, and the town manager.  In Ms. Hill’s words they create “a guardrail” or “ground rules” for spirited discussion.

Councilor Donald Anderson, who helped draft the document, stated that he had concerns that such rules “could be restrictive and controlling of the minority by the majority.”  He told the council that he made revisions to the proposed rules in an effort to avoid such a situation.

Councilor Sid Starks also stated concerns about limiting free speech and public discourse. 

I’m kind of a civil liberties guy and a First Amendment guy…So when I read this I kind of had huge concerns. 

He noted the growing intolerance of political dissent and people’s unwillingness to hear and consider opposing viewpoints.

In today’s world…listening seems to be gone by the wayside…In communication if you think what I think it’s ok but, if you don’t,  it’s not ok….I also realize that political conversations can have really sharp meaning and sometimes are neither nice nor pretty.

After making these statements, Councilor Starks then oddly proposed expanding the rules to cover all of the other public bodies here in town.

All councilors, aside from Mr. Starks, voted to approve the code of conduct; though, as Councilor Paige pointed out, there is no way for the rules to be enforced.