In December 2018, Martin County Commissioner Harold Jenkins asked for an agenda item to be placed on the first commission meeting of January 2019 to discuss a county civility code.
It wasn’t the first time Commissioner Jenkins brought up this idea. It was one of his first actions as a newly elected commissioner in 2016. His proposal – part of his campaign pledge to bring better customer service and greater civility to county government – was rejected by the other county commissioners in office at that time. He was accused of trying to stifle the First Amendment rights of citizens.
He, like so many other Martin County residents, were tired of the accusatory language, misrepresentations and rude actions of some of those making public comment as well as the commissioners themselves.
We all recognize that local laws affect a community most directly and immediately, thus we are passionate about our beliefs as to what actions are best for Martin County's future and its quality of life. Since those passions may be in direct opposition to each other, some commission meetings become not only contentious, but downright ugly.
When this happens, people stop listening, which cripples fair and inclusive decision-making. Simple listening skills are the cornerstone of good government and are vital to achieving true democracy.
In November 2018 One Martin called for a county civility code and we applauded Commissioner Jenkins' for his leadership in moving this issue forward.
One Martin’s suggested common-sense approach to civility is:
- treating everyone courteously
- giving open-minded consideration to all viewpoints
- listening to others respectfully
- focusing on the issues and avoiding personalizing debate
- exercising self-control
- embracing respectful disagreement and dissent as democratic rights, inherent components of an inclusive public process and tools for forging sound decisions
The City of Stuart adopted a civility code several years ago, as did the new Village of Indiantown Board of Commissioners. Civility codes often are written in different styles but they convey the same spirit of respect for others and keeping an open mind, which requires listening to others.
We expect our county leaders to listen with open minds, to consider all viewpoints, and to put aside personal differences or preferences over specific issues.
Other county and city governments statewide and nationally have adopted a civility code. Even the City of Stuart and the new Village of Indiantown have one. Civility codes promote good government and help identify a community's core values.
A civility code can not only improve morale and ease the tensions created during public comment. It is a reminder to us all to be the best version of ourselves.