Define “Civil Discourse”

In my article last week, Down for the Count, I mentioned (and criticized) Scottsdale Leadership’s newly-minted “Principles of Civil Dialog” initiative. Robert Leger just editorialized on the subject, too.

Leger also editorialized further on the civil dialog related to Jim Lane’s action against me last week.

Yesterday I received an interesting message from Michael Kelly, long-time community advocate and widely acknowledged expert on the Scottsdale’s General Plan. It seems as though the General Plan (the one now in force) already talks about civil dialog. Trouble is, very few people have actually read it. For all I know, it isn’t required reading for Scottsdale Leadership classes.

Here’s Mike’s letter which was submitted as a “My Turn” opinion column to the Scottsdale Republic.  The Republic ran it (with minor editing) in the Nov. 9, 2011 Scottsdale Republic:

I applaud Scottsdale Leadership’s Class 25 for its Principles of Civil Dialogue initiative.  Robert Leger’s (November 2, 2011) column discussing this initiative quoted Scottsdale Leadership’s Cynthia Wenstrom stating “I’d love to  see the principles on a banner in the Kiva and printed on top of speaker cards.”

Ms. Wenstrom, Scottsdale Leadership’s Board, and Class 25 members might be surprised to learn that Scottsdale voters inserted and ratified principles of constructive community dialogue in Scottsdale’s General Plan 2001, some ten years ago.  They’re in the Community Involvement Element, a non-mandated element, intended to ensure Scottsdale voters had a voice in city governance.

The “Vision Statement” for that element states:  “City processes will be characterized by deliberation, dialogue, and thoughtful, respectful discussion, followed by collaboration for informed decisions and creative solutions.  Scottsdale will be a community where constructive dialogue involving individuals, the business community, organizations, institutions, and government is the cornerstone of successful planning, decision making, and community building.”

Moreover, the “Scottsdale Values” section of that same element states that Scottsdale “embraces the core values developed by the International Association for Public Participation.”  One of those values is that: “The public should have a say in decisions about actions that affect their lives.”  Additionally, one of Scottsdale’s locally developed values, derived “from its history of community involvement” is:  “Respect and courtesy for all  participants in civic dialogue.”

One of the “approaches” in the 2001 Community Involvement Element suggests that we: “Clarify citizen,  project owner, and the city’s role in responsible civil dialogue on community issues.”  Scottsdale Leadership’s civil dialogue initiative seeks a similar goal.

Unfortunately, the recently City Council adopted 2011 General Plan, which will go to the voters in March 2012 for ratification, omits the Vision Statement cited above that emphasizes constructive dialogue.  But, the reformatted 2011 General Plan still discusses constructive dialogue.  The introductory paragraphs of the 2011 Community Involvement Element state:  “The ultimate goal is to work towards a level of dialogue that is mutually respectful, responsible, and civil.”  Additionally, Community Involvement Policy 6.1 states:  “Clarify citizen, private entity, and the city’s role in responsible civil dialogue on community opportunities and issues.”

I’d ask  Ms. Wenstrom, her board, and classmates, to review Scottsdale’s voter-ratified guidelines concerning constructive, civil dialogue, presently contained in Scottsdale’s General Plan 2001, as they commence their initiative.  Moreover, instead of hanging a banner in the Kiva encouraging civil discourse, perhaps Scottsdale Leadership should ask all parties involved in Scottsdale governance matters to review the community’s guidelines regarding civil discourse presently contained in Scottsdale’s General Plan 2001.

City Manager David Richert told the 2011 Board and Commission General Plan Update Working Group that Scottsdale’s general plan is our “playbook” for growth and development.  It addresses that and much more.  Scottsdale’s General Plan “playbook” has also put forth community guidelines encouraging civil dialogue for the past ten years.

Let’s take a timeout while all involved in Scottsdale governance matters reacquaint themselves with the contents of Scottsdale’s General Plan 2001 “playbook”!

Michael S. Kelly is  a retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel and resides in Scottsdale.

Scottsdale Leadership obviously means well, and I can’t fault them for that. They’ve undoubtedly done a lot of good for Scottsdale. However,

  1. This is not a new idea.
  2. Respect is not a one-way street.
  3. It starts with honesty and dealing in good faith.

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