The Santa Monica City Council unanimously approved the drafting of a Civility Agreement to manage the code of conduct at future meetings.
A concept introduced to council members at its July 26 meeting, the issue came to the dais again on Nov. 8.
Of course, the unanimous vote was not entirely smooth, as both council members and the public debated how best to keep civil discourse from ever getting out of hand.
Falling short of labeling it as a governing document, council members are hoping the Civility Agreement would be a formally adopted policy promoting “civil discourse and participation” at all meetings or forums in which the city sponsors or participates.
“The goal of this policy is not to stifle criticism of the City officials or its policies, but instead to enhance the people’s right to speak by allowing all present to express their opinions without the fear of retaliation or verbal attacks,” a staff report to council members stated.
On one side, there was an argument to be made that words are powerful and there is a legitimate interest in moderating ill-stated remarks that may carry with them serious repercussions.
Conversely, the repercussions of moderating speech are more damaging than the weight of the words themselves, others may argue.
Both sides of the issue came to a T two weeks ago, with Council members Bobby Shriver and Kevin McKeown pondering the need for a Civility Agreement while Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis urged skeptics not to read into the proposed document as a regulatory device but instead as a guide to decorum.
One resident thought the planned Civility Agreement would go too far in regulating speech and stifling Santa Monicans from criticizing their publicly elected members who occupy the seven seats upon the dais.
“This quest for a civility agreement is a total farce,” Daryl Bristol said. “Only despots would attack the people’s right to freedom of speech. Using the excuse that people’s angry rhetoric is not agreeable to you is no reason to violate the public’s rights.”
Still, the six council members present at the Nov. 8 meeting were content with allowing staff to work up a proposal; whether or not the Civility Agreement will end up being approved or not remains to be seen.
Some of the concepts that may be mentioned in the Civility Agreement include: treating people with respect and courtesy; respectfully listening to others; do not take disagreements personally; maintain an open mind; accept responsibility; and, maintain self-control, among others.
“This is not an attempt to keep people from speaking,” Davis said. “I do not view the Civility Agreement as any attempt to try and squash anyone’s First Amendment rights.”
The drafted Civility Agreement was not on last Tuesday’s council meeting agenda for council members to formally vote on.