Although it is nothing new in this nation’s history, much has been written in recent years about civility — or rather its painfully conspicuous absence — in modern political discourse.
Although the larger debate has raged at the highest plateau of American government, where the current approval rate for Congress is reportedly lower than a colonoscopy, the lack of civility also raises its ugly head all too often at the grass-roots level.
Not surprisingly, such an occasion came recently before the Frederick County Board of Commissioners during a public comment segment of a mundane discussion on Feb. 26 about, of all things, a septic tier map.
Pam Abramson, a Green Valley resident who has vehemently opposed commissioner-blessed growth in Monrovia, including protesting with a sign in front of Winchester Hall, apparently got under the skin of Commissioner Billy Shreve (R), who is known for showing little restraint when it comes to saying what’s on his mind — a trait some appreciate.
Abramson asked commissioners’ President Blaine R. Young (R) if he would mind if she arranged for a letter to be sent home with Monrovia-area school students alerting parents to a well-intentioned, county-sponsored open house on March 4 to update residents on development in the area.
She was asking because in December, after a community group had a letter sent home with students encouraging parents to attend another meeting on growth in the area, Young asked the school system to send another letter that he said would correct erroneous information contained in the first one.
That led to brief exchange between Abramson and Young about the March 4 letter over whether he could inform the school system if he no objections to it.
But in the midst of the conversation, Shreve cut in, asking: “Is anyone else speaking?”
“I’m not done,” Abramson said.
“Oh, I’m done [listening],” Shreve responded curtly.
Young then intervened, but an angry Abramson composed herself and said what every citizen would like to say to a public official at one time or another.
“You know quite frankly, the truth is, I find that comment very disrespectful. I don’t care if you’re done. My tax dollars are putting you in the office right now. And you owe it to the citizens who are sitting there through all of our debates and all of your comments to give the courtesy and respect to look us in the eye and listen to what we have to say.... How dare you sit up there and make that comment.”
For his part, Shreve was not apologetic days later, firing back that people sometimes are uncivil to public officials, “and we’re supposed to sit there and take it like stuffed toys.”
Even Young — who is no stuffed toy, although he might also want to consider an anger-management course, given his own growing record of public temper tantrums — chastised Shreve for crossing the line.
“Commissioner Shreve had done this before, and I try to remind him it’s not worth it. It’s not appropriate, and it’s not worth it,” said Young, whose job it is to keep order as presiding officer of the five-member commission.
At least Young admits when he makes a mistake. Everyone gets angry; we’re all human. And Shreve is right when he says that some people get very abusive when criticizing public officials if they don’t agree with them.
But elected leaders more than others need to try to live by the golden rule: talk to others as you would have them talk to you. If you treat everyone with civility, you are more likely be receive an equal dose in return.
If you don’t, then at least you have carried out your oath to represent all the people who elected you, most of whom want to see the public’s business conducted in a civil manner.