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City Council meetings need order, civility

Thursday May 02, 2002

To the Editor: 

I attended the City Council meeting last Tuesday night, April 23, and sat inside the chambers during the council discussion of and vote on the contentious Peace and Justice Commission resolution concerning Israel and Palestine. I applaud your stand on the issue, but this letter is not about that resolution. Rather, it concerns something that I view as more fundamental – the obligation and duties of both citizens and their representatives engaged in civic discourse. 

I could not help but notice the shouting and cat-calling coming from the audience inside the council chambers. Several of these people interrupted the councilmembers as they spoke. The discussion was not a public hearing (the public comment period had occurred earlier in the meeting) but a discussion on the resolution between councilmembers with the public as observers only. Your offer to permit applause or “boo’s” only after a councilmember had spoken was magnanimous, but your comment, “Well, this is Berkeley,” when the audience constantly interrupted council members with whom they 

disagreed was downright wrong. 

In my view, people who interrupt speakers with whom they disagree (or for any other reason, for that matter) are impeding democracy, free speech and civic discourse, the foundations of our nation. As you said to the public present in the chambers, everyone is entitled to present their own opinion. But it must be done in a civil manner. 

I feel that it is incumbent upon you, as the highest elected official in Berkeley, to set and enforce a high standard for the citizens of our city to follow. It is your duty to have all attendees of City Council 

meetings adhere to the highest standards of public discourse. If a person speaks out and interrupts a councilmember that person should be warned and then, if the action reoccurs, should be removed 

from the council chambers. It is only by enforcing the highest standards in your own house, the council chambers, that you will be able to encourage others to emulate you outside of the chambers in other public venues and in the city as well. 

Yelling or shouting are not conducive to communication. They are confrontational and inflame emotions, preventing the other side from hearing or responding to the content of the point of view presented. 

Please set a standard for for civil discourse that the city of Berkeley and the world can follow. Berkeley is always under the microscope of world opinion and, in a way, we can use this reputation as an “oddball” place to our advantage by showing how democracy can be effective. 

Please be loud and firm when it comes demanding that our citizens act responsibly. Do not allow the citizens of our city or anyone else who wishes to enter into our public discourse to pervert the freedom that we all hold so dear. 

Allen F. King 

- Berkeley