Next Monday at their regular meeting the Fort Bragg City Council will consider a resolution adopting a Code of Civility as a new permanent feature of our local city government.
For those who have not seen lame duck City Manager Linda Ruffing’s astonishing Orwellian giant projection screen that now descends from the ceiling of town hall on command, bearing its message of restraint and wisdom, the proposed code is as follows: Pay attention. Listen. Be inclusive. Don’t gossip, Show respect. Be agreeable. Apologize. Give constructive criticism.
At the same time that I have to find this code humorously infantile, I also have a suspicion that within the coils of its very mildness there is a lurking danger. I got to wondering if this insipid lobotomized monochrome might not be just trite. It has been pushed too hard. It is being promoted nationally and its origin is entirely obscure. It came from nowhere. The website gives very little information about how this brainstorm got rolling or who is behind it. The list seems entirely childish but one wonders if perhaps it has not been more carefully designed than you would think.
I have a couple of suggestions in future articles how they might make it more adult and perhaps less dangerous.
One thing I think we should notice is that this bunny soft Code of Civility has one very hard, inflexible, central point and I suggest one purpose. The Code of Civility gives somebody, whoever is in charge of enforcing the Civility Code, in our case the Mayor, a hell of a lot of power. Indeed by the Code of Civility our arguably untrustworthy and increasingly suspect Mayor Lindy Peters has had bestowed upon him the iron fist of an absolute veto disguised in a bunny fur glove. We should observe that it gives him theoretically total arbitrary personal control over the City Council public participation dialogue.
I am not saying that he can get away with abusing power, and I am not suggesting that under normal circumstances he would try, but the Code of Civility not so subtly gives him considerable power. The platitudes with which they presume to saddle adult discussion are so general, so subject to wide interpretation that the Mayor can call just about anything agreeable or inclusive or unfriendly any time he wants. With the power of the Civility Code Mayor Peters can thunderously prohibit discussion if we push his bad button. Imagine the Mayor saying “You’re not paying attention.” … “You’re not being agreeable” … “You’re not being inclusive.”… I don’t find the image all that implausible . What the hell are we doing empowering Lindy Peters to make those calls even on a long shot. Or the next mayor.
Having a Code of Civility at all first came up because of an incident that occurred at the council workshop lunch. Samantha ‘Sam’ Zuttler, the City Attorney, and to a lesser degree our City Manager were insulted and threatened by an irate constituent basically temporarily off his nut. I emphasize this unusual rudeness was perpetrated by one guy.
Mayor Peters bravely intervened. There were no arrests. In the weeks and months that followed the city administration made fainting allusions to mass terror and in particular Mayor Peters emerged as a kind of point man for paranoid official hyper-alertness. The whole crew really seemed to love being “aware of the danger.” It was like being on TV. The incident, though of course in excusable, was tiny, but they used it like slapstick theater to produce mighty waves. The Sam Zuttler incident was a tiny flash of fire in the spilled gasoline of their wider narrative of persecution.
In the Go group narrative counselor Zuttler’s assailant was not the only but only the latest of a bunch of wicked democracy disrupters who had been abusing the process and interfering with a well managed paradise to the hurt of fundamental democracy. According to the Go crowd and the United Social Services bunch, bad manners and ignorance were screwing up an omniscient City Manager and her faithful council.
They screwed them up pretty thoroughly as it turned out. In two successive election cycles Fort Bragg dumped their City Council as fast as they came up for election. Lindy Peters, elected in 2014, fooled everybody and turned his back definitively on his election promises and his constituency. But even he started out reformist anti-City Manager shmoozer. Even with Peters’ decisive defection the remaining new majority was brave enough and determined enough to take on the other guys’ queen (city manager) and terminate that phase of chess moves.
A great many formerly happy camper social service supporters thought that having idiots calling for elections back in the Measure U days (to prohibit homeless services operations in the small city center), was pretty darned undemocratic. Recalling the mayor unspeakable.
And there was vivid evidence of degeneracy in the parade of unenlightened and wrathful constituents being pushy at the podium. It was alleged that these suppressors of democracy were interfering with accustomed norms and normal people were becoming afraid to even argue with them. It was a reign of terror.
Heidi Kraus claimed that opponents of City Council policy were spontaneously threatening her baby. According to the Go narrative the astonished public was afraid even to go to the City Council meetings.
It could be observed that the meeting used to be empty when they were supposed to be safe, but now that they were acknowledged to be dangerous they are full. Nevertheless in spite of this observable fact many insisted that the new full meetings did not by any means include very many timorous and sensitive souls who would otherwise have a lot to say. Activists with their damn research and logic were ruining the homey feeling of the City Council meeting that obedient and non-boat-rocking citizens were accustomed to. The slipping status quo longed for all the bad vibes to be throttled down.
They longed all the more as they kept losing elections. They squirmed as strange people not even of their class were seen on the podium yelling at the City Council. Haranguing them at the least, pushing with old fashioned and politically quite incorrect emotional and psychic engagement. All of it was making both the meek and the consciously enlightened unfairly uncomfortable. There wasa strong faction that cried woefully for official redress.
The sense among the powerful that people were acting badly grew in an exact proportion to the displacement of the powerful from civic power.
The Code of Civility is a reminder that the status quo was challenged at the podium and at the ballot box and never liked one minute of it. In the Code of Civility they are cursing us with their last breath.