By Brian Sherman for The Island Eye News
Members of the Sullivan’s Island Town Council quickly and unanimously agreed that, despite any differences they might have, they should always maintain “the highest standards of civility, honesty and mutual respect” in both spoken and written communication with one another. They were not nearly as quick to ask town employees and those who volunteer their time to sit on various boards to do the same. With little discussion at its regularly scheduled meeting Aug. 16, the Council passed a resolution noting that “The elected officials of the Council enact this civility pledge to build a stronger and more prosperous community by advocating for civil engagement, respecting others and their viewpoints and finding solutions for the betterment of the town of Sullivan’s Island.” Mayor Pat O’Neil explained that the resolution emerged from a recent meeting of the Municipal Association of South Carolina, “recognizing what seems to be an epidemic of basically bad behavior in a lot of town governments in a lot of places across the country.” The resolution passed by a 7-0 vote, but a similar resolution aimed at town employees and board members faced tougher sledding. “If somebody is found to have violated this pledge because they had a bad day or something, are they not up for promotion?”
Council Member Greg Hammond asked. “I just don’t want to go into something so quickly that impacts many, many town employees and possibly their livelihood without being a little more clear in terms of if this has teeth or not. I’m not opposed to this, but I’d like to kind of put it out for some public comment and hear what people think about it rather than being, in my opinion, a little hasty.”
Council Member Scott Millimet disagreed, pointing out that the resolution isn’t binding and that it’s simply “a pledge to be civil.” “I’m having trouble understanding where you’re coming from in terms of ‘I really think we need to take a pause and determine whether we want to behave in a civil manner or not,’” Millimet asked Hammond. “It does ask new employees to commit to behaving in a civil manner, and I don’t think anybody should object to that. If so, I’d like to know why.” “We’re not passing a law, rule or anything of the sort,” Council Member Bachman Smith added. “There’s no penalty. In my mind, we are trying to promote a more civil discourse and civil decorum. It would be hard to argue against the idea that at the national level we are seeing something less than civil, and it’s growing increasingly concerning on all sides.”
“I’m happy to lead by example, but the libertarian in me is not in favor of requiring everybody else to take a pledge without having a more thorough discussion over it,” Hammond responded. Council Member Justin Novak suggested that since one of his colleagues had “a significant issue” with the resolution, the Council should consider tabling the resolution, but Hammond insisted on a vote. The resolution passed 5-2, with Hammond and Novak voting no and Gary Visser, Kaye Smith, Millimet, Bachman Smith and O’Neil voting yes.
The resolution pointed out that a national survey found that 93% of Americans think incivility is a problem, while 68% consider it to be a major issue and 74% believe incivility is increasing in the United States. It also stated that “the Town Council recognizes that the town would create an improved, more friendly and efficient workplace if all Town Council members, town employees and town-appointed board members made a commitment to civility by taking the civility pledge.”