Sibley Among Community Leaders Signing ‘Civility Pledge’
Newtown Deputy Director of Planning Rob Sibley was among 92 municipal leaders from nearly 60 towns and cities across Connecticut who signed on to the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities’ newly-established Civility Pledge.
Started at the 2022 CCM statewide convention in early November, those signing the pledge vow to do their part to help foster respectful, civil engagement in their community and throughout the state.
The CCM Civility Pledge signed by the leaders states:
“I pledge to build a stronger and more prosperous community by advocating for civil engagement, respecting others and their viewpoints and finding solutions for betterment of my community.”
Sibley, who is now the town’s top-ranking land use official following the recent retirement of Director of Planning George Benson, said civility was an “imperative for the top leaders and officers in municipalities, the state, and the nation.”
“Civility is the top of civil service,” said Sibley. “Our town has had no lack of difficult situations, and we have to be able to continue civil conversation. We continue to put ourselves in a place where we must recognize differences in opinion. I wanted to pledge myself in a way that was truly in line with dedication to civil service.”
Dan Rosenthal said while he didn’t think Newtown is an uncivil town, he “fully endorses civility.”
“I’m thankful that in my experience, with few exceptions, public meetings have mostly been civil,” said Rosenthal. “I can count on one hand the amount of times things have stirred the pot and gone off the rails.”
Rosenthal feels the bigger challenge is in how people treat each other in the social media space, which can “spill into interpersonal interactions.”
‘Focus On Civility’
Board of Education Chairman Deborah Zukowski stated that while she was unaware of a civility pledge, she supports “the focus on civility.”
“The BoE has called for respect during our meetings for several years, both from members of the Board at the start of the meeting (Credo) and from the public (in the prologue to public participation),” said Zukowski. “So far, it seems to be generally working, knock on wood.”
The signing cities are Bristol, Hartford, Meriden, Middletown, New Haven, Norwich, Torrington, and Waterbury, and towns include Andover, Berlin, Bethel, Bridgewater, Brookfield, Greenwich, Monroe, Newtown, Redding, Southbury, and Watertown.
“CCM has a commitment to fostering a climate of open discussion and debate, mutual respect, and tolerance between all who live in, work in, and visit our community,” said Joe DeLong, CCM Executive Director and CEO. “We believe all interactions in CCM’s 168 member communities should be civil despite any differences of opinion on a particular issue.
“And we believe in finding common ground and engaging in civil discussion about community issues important to each of us,” noted DeLong. “We vow to respect all points of view and will strive to provide a reasonable opportunity for all to express their views openly — without attacks and antagonization.”
This follows action from last March, when CCM teamed up with the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE) to present a webinar entitled “Let’s Keep It Civil: How to Lead Public Meetings in Contentious Times.” The webinar generated a great deal of interest, with many municipal and school board leaders from across the state attending.
CCM and CABE drew on the thoughtful work of some national experts as well as the experience of some of our respected local leaders in Connecticut for this presentation. Princeton University’s Bridging Divides Initiative is one such national expert. Princeton’s BDI has published some practical, constructive steps for promoting civil discussion in public meetings.
Some of that advice can be found at bridgingdivides.princeton.edu.
Associate Editor Jim Taylor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.