The month of August saw Institute for Civility in Government co-founders Cassandra Dahnke and Tomas Spath each featured independently in articles in The Boston Globe.
Early in the month, reporter Peter Schworm sought comment from Cassandra about cases in which discontent has bubbled over into shouting matches and heated exchanges, screaming and table-pounding, at municipal meetings around Massachusetts. A health board meeting in Hanson, for example, abruptly ended when one participant overturned a table. While meetings of school boards and town councils in Salisbury and Dracut have degenerated into shouting matches.
When asked about creeping incivility, Cassandra responded that “this stuff doesn’t happen in a vacuum” — that “what you see is actually a reflection of the population at large.” She told Schworm that a reality-show culture, in which extreme views dominate the conversation, has crept into all corners of life. And that when “what gets attention gets edgier and edgier … people think ‘I have to do something bigger and bolder if I am going to make my point.'”
Meanwhile, later in the month, Tomas spoke to The Boston Globe‘s Calvin Hennick about a lawsuit filed by Robert Schuler against the town of Shirley, MA. Schuler, a former member of the town’s Finance Committee, had been barred from town property at the end of 2011 after public comments in which he seemed to threaten town selectmen with a gun. “The only question I have about the budget,” he is reported to have said, “is what have the selectmen done with this, if anything? Don’t tell me they haven’t done anything with it, or I’m going to pull my gun out and start shooting or something. It drives me nuts!’’
The American Civil Liberties Union defended Schuler, who eventually won his case.
When asked for comment on the situation, Tomas replied: “I think we get frustrated because we just don’t know how to work through issues…. We all need to take a deep breath and start over again and work through our issues before we get to a place where we lambaste one another.”
Peter Schworm’s full article, “Local Government Boards Feel the Sting of Incivility,” is available, complete with Cassandra’s comments, here online.
Calvin Hennick’s article, “Shirley Settles Lawsuit by Town Official Banned Over Gun Remark,” may be found by clicking here.
You can find more information about the Institute’s definition of, and approach to, civility here.