Anaheim Mayor pro Tem Gail Eastman penned this piece for the Orange County Register about a month ago, but it remains current and I’d like to re-post it here:
The First Amendment not only protects our freedoms of speech and religion, it is the cornerstone of a government of the people, by the people and for the people.
Unfortunately, an isolated yet highly vocal group of individuals in Anaheim has abused its right to speech in an attempt to wage what can only be described as a campaign of hatred for fellow citizens.
This sad chapter in our city’s history began brewing this summer as these individuals lobbed hateful personal attacks and bullied other speakers at City Council meetings. It reached a tipping point at a September meeting when an individual spewed anti-Semitic and homophobic slurs toward one of my colleagues. It was a disgusting display of ignorance and incivility. This intolerance has no place in our community. Period.
That is why I was proud to bring forward an aggressive policy aimed at fostering a greater sense of peace and tolerance in Anaheim. This resolution passed unanimously at the Oct. 22 meeting, and I thank my colleagues for their support.
The policy is simple. It enshrines the First Amendment as the bedrock of democracy. However, it also affirms our belief that the City Council has the right and duty to “condemn and disavow hateful statements made by members of the public.”
What’s more, it enables council members to strongly condemn any behavior that encourages an atmosphere of intolerance and hate, and has the potential of inciting violence against members of the city council or the public.
It will not, in any way, limit the public’s opportunity to address elected representatives. We want to encourage more of our citizens to participate in our civil discourse and voice opinions at council meetings.
But to accomplish this, we must eliminate the kind of hateful epithets that have clearly had a chilling effect in our community. Indeed, residents report being afraid to attend meetings and have shied away from participating in the democratic process for fear of being personally attacked.
It is our duty to end this cycle and pursue a kinder public discourse. This resolution is just one step toward that goal. But as your elected representative, I vow to sustain this effort, lead by example and work to foster peace, kindness and civility in the city of Anaheim.
Mayor Pro Tem Eastman is right. City councils are not helpless in the face of incivility, and worse, during public comments. Mayors and councilmembers set the tone by what they say, as well as by silence in the face of public vitriol.
Eastman is too civil to point out that almost all of the “isolated yet highly vocal group of individuals” are highly vocal supporters of Mayor Tom Tait – which is ironic given the centrality of “kindness” to his mayorship. I say that as someone who supported and continues to support his kindness initiative; I continue to be amazed at how they make a mockery of the “Year of Kindness” with the intensity of the vitriol they aim at any critic of Mayor Tait or his actions and policies.
These individuals have scoffed at this civility policy (in my opinion) because one their modus operandi does discourage others with different views from speaking at city council meetings, thus allowing them to dominate public comments and pass themselves off as “the voice of the people.”