A culture of disrespect

The public’s outburst at Tuesday’s Chico City Council meeting is a result of the panel’s longtime incivility

An exchange between veteran Chico City Councilwoman Ann Schwab and Chico Mayor Sean Morgan at the dais Tuesday evening (Sept. 4) was telling.

It followed Morgan ordering police officers in the council chambers to clear the gallery—everyone but the media and city staff were shooed out—following an orchestrated outburst by several members of the public (see Ashiah Scharaga’s report on page 9).

“We need to be able to treat each other in a manner that is respectful, so that we can be examples for the community,” Schwab said, once the dust settled.

“Well, it’s too late for that,” responded Morgan, under whose tenure the meetings have grown increasingly out of control.

Month in and month out, this newspaper bears witness to the council members’ cutting comments, petty arguments, snide accusations and, oftentimes, scowls. The combativeness is over the top. And it comes from both sides, though more so from the conservative majority. On this evening, among other things, it included longtime Councilman Mark Sorensen calling a colleague a schoolyard bully and then, in an ironic turn later in the evening, interrupting a community member during her allotted speaking time.

Sorensen, a former mayor and an administrator of the tiny town of Biggs, knows better. As should all of the council members, considering they adopted a City Council Code of Conduct just a couple of years ago.

No. 7 on that list: “Be tolerant of all views expressed at public meetings.”

No. 8: “Refrain from abusive conduct, personal charges, verbal or written attacks made upon the character or motives of other members of the council, boards and commissions, staff or members of the public.”

The council is regularly out of step with this set of guidelines, and it’s ugly to watch. But members’ actions have larger implications. Indeed, how they’ve conducted themselves for years has bred a culture of disrespect.

We don’t think the protesters’ outbursts aided their efforts to steer the council away from bad policy, but we get where they’re coming from. They’ve grown tired of the council not listening to them. They’re fed up with the panel ignoring important community matters.

On Tuesday, they sent a message loud and clear that should clue in the council members to this mess of their own making. The only way to foster civility is to also display it.