Making Uncivil Meetings Civil Again

handshake isolated on business background

Have your civil meetings become uncivil? Do they look more like the chaotic clamor of an unsavory encounter you’d see on TV than the civilized, brief, and efficient protocol of a government dialog?

While no commission wants citizens to feel as though they don’t have a voice, if allowed to break protocol, civil meetings can quickly take a turn for the ugly. By following a few civic meeting guidelines, you can ensure that concerns and grievances are met, 1st Amendment rights are exercised, and the outcome is both productive and efficient.
Tips for Civil Civic Meetings
1. Create a Process. Many elected officials and local governments have created processes for civil complaints and concerns which include: 1) having the citizen contact the department or agency directly, 2) if dissatisfied with the response, complete a written request for a response to said concern. This often helps prevent a problem from moving up the chain when it can be dealt with directly.
2. Respond in a Timely Manner. Once a grievance is reported, response and resolution should be made in a timely manner.  If the problem at hand requires the involvement of the council or committee, then notify the citizen of when the matter will be discussed, and follow up after said meeting.
3. Welcome Non-members… Invite citizens to attend discussions and provide feedback if it is felt they could be helpful in the pursuit of the concern.
4. but…Regulate open forum. While inviting non-members to attend civic meetings, remind all parties that an open forum still requires the order and respect of closed meetings. Adding “open comments” as an agenda item is a great way for citizens to get involved, but the basic rules still must be followed. Citizens should be limited to one open citizen comment, unless previously approved by the commission, mayor, or clerk.
5. Come Prepared. Citizens should notify the clerk ahead of time if they would like to present an item to the agenda to prevent unruly and heated to debate of a non-agenda item.
6. Remind Constituents of Their Rights. If unable to satisfy the citizen concern, remind the citizen of their right to vote on elected officials if they feel they are not being properly represented.
Everyone has the right to be heard, but it’s hard to hear anything if there’s too much noise. By using these tips, the voice of the citizen and the councilperson can both be heard, and problems (hopefully) jointly resolved. For more tips on civil council meetings, see our articles “Is the Majority Always Right?” and how to get school and government to work together.

Share This Post:

This entry was posted in Best Practices, City Clerk Cafe, Office Efficiency, Small Cities and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.