A few of the recommendations were implemented including a pilot program to change some of the rules that pertain to the operation of meetings. However, for the most part there has not been a huge change in the way in which meetings are run or even the overall level of civility.
Watching the workshops, it did not take long to see why the approach was bound to fail–there was a lack of introspection among the councilmembers with perhaps the exception of the one councilmember least culpable in the infighting. Councilmembers were willing to take others to task but rarely willing to look at their own actions and admit their part in the problems with the way meetings are run. As we know, unless people are willing to look at their own actions and attempt to change their own actions, rarely if ever will real change occur.
But at the end of the day, as we are still on this topic, I begin to wonder if this is something that we ought to really be that concerned about. Local politics is often contentious. Politics in general is in fact contentious. People claim to hate partisanship as it pertains to Washington or Sacramento, but then again they keep electing the same people over and over again–thus rewarding partisan tactics.
I wonder if civility is in fact even that good for the polity. Looking back at the school board, there were divisive issues on the school board over the past two years, but for the most part the members of the board treated each other with respect and disagreements rarely turned acrimonious. Even at points of most tension like the closing of Valley Oak and the September meeting involving the truancy issue, the discourse was reserved and respectful. The school board race itself was largely unremarkable even with a small scandal mixed in. The result, a neat clean election with only 30 percent turnout.
City council races are built on issues that will make the blood boil. The issue of growth is pardoning the pun, explosive. People will come out until three in the morning on hot issues like the building of a new Target store in Davis. Passions will fly. Fights will erupt.
In the ideal world our councilmembers could debate the tough issues and then go get Martinis afterwards. However in the real world, issues are passionate and the bars close at 1 am. Do we really want to take that passion and energy away from the council and make them stale like the school board?
The biggest disappointment this year were survey results that showed how few people watched the City Council on television let alone come down to council chambers. Democracy able to come into people’s homes. Issues vital to the community live on our screen. Is it that incivility coming back to bite us yet again? Would people watch their city council if only for the venom and backbiting they watch on the tube that just turns their stomach and forces them to go play a game of soccer, ride their bikes, or watch God forbid, commercial television?
Unfortunately, you see none of that venom at school board meetings. Their meetings are also on TV. And yet, if they did a survey, I would wager that their Nielsen ratings would be through the floor.
Everyone claims to want civility in this society but their actions tell us a different story. They watch the blood and the carnage and turn the station when things get too nice.
Civility sells well in a campaign package, but it isn’t what we really want. We want good old bare knuckle, backroom, brawls. We want screaming in the bathroom at 2 am. We want people to show that they care about the issues that we care about. That they are passionate about it. That these issues mean something. And anything short of that is simply unacceptable. These are the issues that shape our community and we want our leaders to respect those issues and fall on the sword for them if they must. Our democracy demands no less.
After all this is the People’s Republic of Davis and we are the second most educated city in America. We have standards to maintain and a reputation to uphold. Let us not pretend to be something that we are not.
—Doug Paul Davis reporting