By Cecilia Chan
GSN Managing Editor
Inside Gilbert’s Council Chambers hangs colorful banners displaying the Six Pillars of Character – trustworthiness, citizenship, respect, responsibility, fairness and caring.
The town may soon add another core value or a seventh pillar to the wall: civility.
Town Council is expected Dec. 20 to vote on a civility policy, culminating five monthly meetings by a town Subcommittee on Civility. If approved, it goes into effect Jan. 1.
“With politics there’s a lack of civility,” said Councilman Eddie Cook, who spearheaded the policy and chairs the subcommittee. “Sometimes council meetings may not look like they’re civil for the public.”
The draft policy gives examples of civil behavior such as respect and courtesy in communication and actions, which are expected to be followed. The policy would apply to elected officials, those sitting on boards and commissions, all town employees, independent contractors, temporary personnel, volunteers and other people doing business for or with Gilbert.
The subcommittee signed off on the draft last week and is expected to review it in its proper format Nov. 14.
If the council approves the policy, it would become part of the town’s personnel rules, said Jolean Fleck, Human Resources director.
“The principles expressed in the civility policy are already woven into the fabric of the organization via our mission and values,” she said. “Respect is one of our core values, and this was an opportunity to emphasize the value we place on conducting ourselves in a civil, respectful, courteous manner.”
Fleck said the proposed policy is intended to capture the town’s current practices of acting with integrity and treating each other with respect and courtesy.
The policy, however, has no teeth if not followed.
“It doesn’t come with a long set of rules or punishments,” Fleck said. “Rather its intent is to reinforce and underscore the importance we collectively place on a culture of civility and mutual respect.”
Cook was introduced to the idea last year when he attended a session at The Global Leadership Summit hosted by Central Christian Church.
The speaker used the book, “Mastering Civility, A Manifesto for Civility in the Workplace” by Christine Porath, which intrigued him, Cook said.
“I was, ‘wow, what a fantastic idea,” he recalled.
Although the concept is often used in the business world, Cook said why not bring it to local government?
With the backing of two of his peers on council, Cook got his subcommittee, which includes Councilman Scott Anderson, Vice Mayor Brigette Petersen and employees from departments such as police, public works and parks and recreation.
At a prior meeting, Peterson said she believes society in general has lost a level of respect and that this policy would be a great way to spread respect and civility to each other and the community.
Incivility in the workplace is not only bad for employee morale, but it has an impact on the public’s civic participation.
The National Conference of State Legislatures cited a 2016 survey on Civility in America, which found 70 percent of respondents believed incivility in the United States has risen to “crisis” levels with uncivil actions, such as name calling, bullying and calls to fisticuffs, which seem to take priority over respectful dialogue and the healthy exchange of diverse viewpoints.
The Institute for Civility in Government said civility is important in government because that is the venue where positive change happens.
Incivility among constituents, political candidates and elected representatives has led to a situation in which the public too often mistake political adversaries for enemies, according to the nonprofit, nonpartisan group based in Texas.
Civility is a critical first step toward increasing participation in civic life, disarming enmity and growing effective collaborative relationships, the group said.
The National Institute for Civil Discourse has launched the Initiative to Revive Civility, a national grassroots effort that highlights the need to change the tone of current politics and suggests specific things that each individual can do to help make that happen
The nonpartisan institute, housed at the University of Arizona, took root in 2011 after the Tucson shooting that killed six people and wounded 13, including then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
Not many local governments in the country have a civility policy.
In 2015, the Manhattan Beach City Council in Southern California adopted a policy on civility and decorum that spells out what is acceptable behavior both from the public and its employees.
It also includes measures for dealing with those from the public not complying with the policy such as sending a cease-and-desist letter or temporarily removing the person from a government building. The internal process for dealing with employees include an intervention program.
Cook believes this will be the first civility policy created at any level of government in Arizona.
“We would be the first,” he said. “Our hope is there will be others who hear about it and want to do it. We want to be the spark to ignite other communities to do a policy on civility.”