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Time to be nice? Alderman wants ordinance requiring civility during public comments at public meetings

Time to be nice? Alderman wants ordinance requiring civility during public comments at public meetings

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RACINE — Members of the public speaking at City Council meetings would be required by ordinance to refrain from “abusive or profane remarks” and avoid outbursts or any other disruptive conduct, including applause, under an alderman’s proposal.

Introduced by 8th District Alderman Q.A. Shakoor II, the measure sets forth four specific rules of decorum to be followed during the public comment period at council meetings.

Speakers would be “expected to conduct themselves with civility, and to accord a measure of dignity and respect,” and “personal attacks on alderpersons, city staff, other city officials or members of the public” would not be allowed. Engaging in such conduct would be “grounds for ending a speaker’s time at the podium or for removal from the meeting room” at the discretion of whoever is presiding over the meeting — in most cases the mayor or city council president.

Shakoor said establishing such rules now would help to ensure “public safety,” especially as officials prepare to head into what promises to be another tough budget process that could bring more cuts.

“I think that with the services being flat and reduced, there are going to be some citizens that will be upset,” he said. “Bottom line, the community deserves the respect of one and all, even if we disagree, we should disagree respectfully.”

He thinks spelling out in city code exactly what is expected from residents in terms of decorum and respectful behavior would help make the whole process more civil. It would also encourage speakers to avoid making insults and accusations against individual city officials — something that does happen from time to time during the public comment period.

“I think decorum should be mentioned. I think (the rules) should be part of (what’s read) when the clerk states what the public comment period is all about,” Shakoor said. “She talks about how there is no dialogue, discussion or debate. It should be stated that there should be proper decorum.”

Although Mayor John Dickert or whoever is leading a City Council meeting can ask speakers to control their language or behavior, they are not specifically required to do so. There are some basic rules the council adheres to for public comments, but the only thing that is spelled out in city ordinance is at what time the public comment is held during City Council meetings.

The proposal was recently referred to the council’s Committee of Whole. The committee, which includes all 15 members of the council, may not take up the measure for a more than a month, however, said City Council President Terry McCarthy.

For his part, McCarthy said he somewhat questions the need for a specific set of rules dictating decorum.

“The chairman of any meeting can run the meeting in a way that if someone is being abusive, they can ask them to stop speaking,” he said. “I understand where Alderman Shakoor is coming from — sometimes it is hard to listen to insults and at times lies — it’s only two or three minutes at a time and it’s part of the job.”

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