Uncivil actions at city meetings
Published: Sunday, May 12, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 10, 2013 at 4:39 p.m.
If you need an example of the problem that Civility Month is trying to address, Wilbur Holloway provided a pretty good one.
Holloway, a regular speaker at Gainesville City Commission meetings, wrote a recent email to commissioners about their decision to fund a $100,000 study of a possible streetcar system.
If he gets credit for anything, it's brevity. After referring to the study as a “f---- you” to taxpayers because it came soon after a summit where residents asked that road repairs be prioritized, he closed with: “I was civil last night, but no more! F---- You!”
As former City Attorney Marion Radson explained last week in a column for The Sun, the Florida Bar has asked local governments in Florida to declare May as Civility Month.
“Too often, anger, rudeness, ridicule and personal attacks rule the day,” he wrote. “This type of behavior only serves to discourage public participation and to prevent a fair discussion of the issues.”
Maybe Holloway got the message. He appeared during the commission's citizens comment last week to apologize. Sort of.
He said he regretted sending the “intemperate email,” but proceeded to explain his frustrations. He said the commission created an atmosphere of incivility with actions such as Commissioner Lauren Poe referring to a public speaker as a jerk.
That speaker — Nathan Skop — also believes the commission has fueled frustration through its attitude toward the public. Skop told me that he heard plenty of criticism during his time as a Public Service commissioner, but maintained a thick skin and stayed civil.
Yet he conceded that he could have handled himself better at times during his regular appearances before the City Commission. At the same meeting where Holloway gave his half apology, Skope exploded at commissioners for being “arrogant.” He constantly blasts the commission about the biomass contract, even if the hearing is about completely unrelated issues such as abortion clinic protests.
He was among the speakers who turned the seemingly benign presentation of a sister city designation to representatives of Rzeszow, Poland, into heated criticism of commissioners.
“I don't know when I've been more uncomfortable and embarrassed,” Commissioner Yvonne Hinson-Rawls said at the time. “I think we're acting like children.”
Hinson-Rawls has also been criticized for contributing to incivility. Another regular during public comment, Debbie Martinez, accused Hinson-Rawls of battery for poking her in the back three times during a candidates' forum.
I wish I was making this up. Gainesville police consulted with the State Attorney's Office and concluded that there was not probable cause for any charges.
The commission has definitely invited criticism through actions such as a refusal to admit any mistakes were made in the biomass contract. Commissioners do seem arrogant at times. But it seems that seething with anger, however righteous that anger may be, is hardly the best response.
Skop thinks things will change after Ed Braddy is sworn in as mayor.
Let's hope so. Because after things descend into someone dropping f-bombs on elected officials, it's hard to see how they could get worse.