On January 21st, the Charter Committee of Greater Cincinnati convened a public Civility Forum inviting all four Charter endorsed City Council members to reflect on their experience over the prior couple of months of often contentious debate over the Streetcar project. Beyond Civility was asked to moderate the event.
Vice Mayor David Mann (D), Council members Amy Murray (R), Yvette Simpson (Charter), and Kevin Flynn (D) took the stage at the Hebrew Union College along with Enqiurer Editorial Page editor David Holthaus for 90 minutes of personal disclosures and honest descriptions of some of the more difficult moments in the debates, and the strains they put on civility and relationships. Few could remember a more charged and often contentious discussion.
Mistakes were acknowledged, apologies were extended and relationships were strengthened as each shared their views of how the heat of passionate feelings in the community was increased by the pressure of the high stakes and the daily increasing cost of delay. Intemperate language by colleagues and the public made listening harder. One member remarked that he actually felt liberated when he realized that an equal number of friends and supporters were going to be upset with him whichever way he voted!
Several thoughts were offered in response to the question about how Council’s decision making process might be improved and how the press can help. One participant noted that the new bench at which Councilmembers are seated faces out to the public and the cameras, which can encourage speechmaking and grandstanding rather than interpersonal dialogue. Another pointed out that the press coverage of the issue, at least in the paper, was good, and citizens could help by informing themselves about the facts as they are reported. Another noted that live texting and tweeting by members of Council during meetings and hearings distracts the tweeter from careful listening and leaves no time to filter what they say, increasing the likelihood of intemperate communication.
All of the participants had participated previously in one or more of Beyond Civility’s initiatives, four are on BC’s Steering Committee, so the panel’s clear commitment to better communication for more effective governance came as no surprise. Nonetheless, the audience of over 100 citizens clearly appreciated hearing it.