As elected officials, one of the most important things we need in order to work together is civil discourse. What is that exactly? As council members, when we are trying to make a decision for the city, we will review, ask questions and then discuss and give our opinions on a topic. It helps us to come to a mutual understanding. And it follows the rules of polite behavior, respecting everyone’s views even when we don’t agree.
One of the best descriptions I read came from a primer for students on civil discourse at www.socialstudies.org.
“There is really just one rule of Civil Discourse: Don’t make it personal. This means to stick to the issues. In a civil discussion, you use logic, persuasion, evidence, information and argumentation to make a point or defend a position, but you would not attack the other individual personally. Civil discourse means being respectful of the other person and his or her views.”
It is impossible to have civil discourse at council meetings if one member treats others with disrespect, makes personal accusations or disrupts the meeting with outbursts.
When a council member seeks to shame or discredit others in order to keep them from having an equal voice in discourse, that is a form of bullying and intimidation.
When we hear the word bullying, most of us think of school-yard bullies who pick fights and beat up on smaller children. But there are actually many forms of bullying. Political bullying is an effort to shame or discredit another and a willingness to lie or distort the truth to achieve that goal. Political bullying can take many forms including reputation-bashing, rumor spreading, blame-shifting, name-calling, and making veiled threats.
I have never really regarded myself as a victim of bullying until someone said this to me yesterday. I guess because I am old enough to know who I am and am not as concerned with others’ opinions of me. My goal is to support the community and my intentions are good, and I trust the majority of residents are informed enough to know this about me as well–so I have simply brushed off all the lies and false accusations that came my way during the campaign. I chose instead to keep things positive.
But I realize now as it is happening again that when this kind of bullying happens towards myself or other council members and is not called out, it just continues and becomes more pervasive. And it can wreak havoc and interfere with city business, as we have seen during recent council meetings.
The reputation-bashing and rumor spreading I have been experiencing are lies intended to discredit me. My campaign finances are public record. Anyone can review them. Some contributions did come in to my campaign from developers and I reviewed the contributions and returned those funds last December, because I did not want any conflict of interest. You can read investigative reporter John Chadwell’s article in BenitoLink: “Council Member Resendiz Maligns Colleagues Again.” It outlines how I returned those funds at the end of the campaign cycle and further states the majority of my funding has come from retirees and business people—community members…not developers.
The other thing that really prompted me to speak out was reading about the effects of political bullying on our children. We have children who visit our council meetings and have observed this bullying behavior. And children don’t just learn to be a bully from family members or friends–they can learn it from local leaders as well.
Now I have had several people ask me why I can’t just remove the council member. That is not within my power. As Mayor I am part of a council of five and we each have one vote. And even if the rest of us all wanted to vote someone off the island, it is not within our power to do that either. It is not up to us, an elected official can only be removed by the residents of Hollister through an election or recall.
What I can do as your Mayor is continue to Chair meetings, treat everyone with respect and ask others on council to do the same. Hopefully, we can have civil discourse and thoughtful discussion that allows the council to make good, sound decisions for our city.
If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me at: [email protected] or 831- 537-7271.
“I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.” – Thomas Jefferson
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