Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Can’t We All Just Get Along? Promoting Respectful Dialogue at City Council Meetings

The beauty of democracy is that every opinion counts. However, sometimes the way these opinions are expressed can derail—rather than further—the conversation.

Take city council meetings. When you put into one room people who have different goals, values, and perspectives—but are all equally passionate about being a voice for their community—tempers may flare, making the meeting less productive than it could be.

But approaching the meeting with certain soft skills can lessen the chance of hard feelings.

Mayor Jo Emerson
One Minnesota municipal leader has gotten this technique down. White Bear Lake Mayor Jo Emerson sets specific expectations at her city’s council meetings. Those speaking must stick to the debate at hand—they can disagree on the issues, but no personal attacks allowed! She will rule folks out-of-order if they start getting personal.

Mayor Emerson recently weighed in on this topic for us:

As an elected city official, why is this issue (running effective and respectful council meetings) important to you?
A well-run and respectful meeting allows the council to concentrate on the issues before us so we can be more effective.

What are some of the things you’ve done in your city to promote civil public discourse?
As mayor, I believe it starts with me to set the tone and ensure our meetings are respectful and well run. When there is going to be a heated public hearing, I will remind the public of the ground rules before they come up to speak (which are to be concise and respectful). I do not allow anyone to attack the council or the staff.

Have you seen a difference in your city council meetings since implementing some of these changes?
I've received feedback from citizens that they have noticed a change. They feel we are more cooperative and are getting good results.

Would you like to hear more about how to get the most out of your city council meetings? Both Mayor Emerson and LMC General Counsel Tom Grundhoefer shared specific techniques for running effective meetings during this free webinar, given on May 6.

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