Civility vs. Rudeness On The Dais
During the Public Comments segment at the Costa Mesa City Council meeting on May 1st long-time resident David Kincaid stepped to the speaker's podium and used his allotted three minutes to plea for civility in the discourse of important issues in our city. He directed his comments to the council and, occasionally, looked over his shoulder at the audience, too.
...AND HE'S RIGHT
Kincaid, of course, was correct. Since this current City Council took office nearly 18 months ago we've seen civility take a back seat to snide comments and vitriolic rejoinders from some members of the council directed at speakers and their peers on the dais, as well. And, a few speakers have strongly criticized members of the council, both as a group and by name specifically.
BEVER'S "BOWEL MOVEMENTS"
Following Kincaid's plea, some members of the council chimed in and concurred with his observations. However, it didn't take very long that evening for some of them to fall right back into their old habits of criticizing members of the public who dared to speak out against their actions, sometimes with a coarseness unbecoming officials theoretically providing leadership to our city. Mayor Eric Bever, for example, chided councilwoman Wendy Leece for demanding accountability for the junket Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer and councilman Steve Mensinger are taking to Las Vegas this month by implying that she wanted a report on their "bowel movements". That kind of gutter language may be OK when you're tossing back a few cold ones at Gary Monahan's pub or changing clothes in the locker room at the Costa Mesa Country Club, but it's completely inappropriate when spoken from the dais in a public meeting.
YOUNG FOLKS LEARNING BULLYING
I attend most of the meetings and have observed young people - high-schoolers for the most part - who have recently begun attending to either observe as part of a school assignment or to speak before the council to plead their case for a pet project - elimination of Styrofoam carry-out packaging at local restaurants, for example. I've found myself wondering just what kind of lesson our council is providing for them as they snipe back and forth and take pot-shots at speakers with whom they disagree. I fear that those eager young people may be learning that bullying and boorish behavior is acceptable - and it's not.
BULLYING IS JUST PLAIN WRONG
Bullying has become a very big issue in schools all around the country lately. In fact, there is currently an award-winning movie on the subject being shown locally. What we see from the dais is, in many instances, bullying in its purest form. Council members take advantage of their position of authority - their bully pulpit, as it were - to chide, vilify and castigate members of the community and other members of the council who express opposing viewpoints. Not only is this unseemly and rude, but it's just plain wrong.
WE DESERVE AND EXPECT MORE...
Mayor Bever, our part-time, part-time councilman and now the lamest of lame ducks, has shown a reluctance to take part in the governance process of our city in recent months. He failed to attend several important council meetings and was heard to moan from the dais, "I didn't sign up for this!" He's also been heard telling one critic addressing a grievance before the council that, "If you don't like it, tough luck!" And, now that he has a greater obligation to actually attend the meetings, he's becoming a bully. Residents have every right to expect better behavior from those chosen to lead the city.
BEVER'S BOORISH BEHAVIOR
At the end of that May 1st meeting Bever had so offended Wendy Leece's daughter, Amy Fox, that she stormed up to the dais, ready to confront Bever as he departed. He went the other direction, but Fox caught up with him and they had a little chat. He then went directly to Orange County Register reporter Sean Greene - the young fellow who has been doing a terrific job covering the city over the past few months - and got in his face, criticizing him for not contacting Bever on issues. That's truly ironic because Bever is well-known among members of the media who have covered city issues as being unavailable for comment and not returning telephone calls. As distasteful as that encounter was, I had to smile knowing that Greene had just attended his final Costa Mesa council meeting. The next day he departed his job and will begin graduate school at UC Berkeley in the fall. I'm sure he learned a lot covering our city - probably less about government and more about the behavior of government officials.
Let us hope that Bever and the other members of our City Council will somehow find the maturity to represent the residents of this city with more decorum and civility at future meetings. No one should have to fear backhanded retaliation when they take the time to study issues and present their views for the council to consider. And no one should have to fear the wrath of a petulant, infantile, termed-out, gutter-mouthed politician.