“Civility” is not a word one often associates with government in today’s toxic political environment.
Councilman Greg Newcomer is hoping to change all that—in Moorestown, at least.
Last week, Newcomer introduced a “Code of Civility,” which outlines a series of guidelines/suggestions for council to follow to ensure interactions among its members are as amicable and respectful as possible.
“Sometimes we think only our solution is the best,” said Newcomer. “(The code is about) what civility is, and why we would want to be civil … I am somebody who believes in civility. It is the basis with which we should go forward.”
The councilman said the idea sprouted from conversations he’s had with several local leaders over the last decade. Civility codes are really nothing new—many governing bodies have adopted similar legislation, he explained.
To some, “code” seems to imply hard-and-fast rules, for which there are penalties for violating. However, Newcomer made it clear his wish isn’t to adopt legislation to make everyone be nice to each other or else, but rather to establish an agreement—an honor system—that gently nudges government officials in that direction.
“All of this is a culture change. So people must own it as it goes,” he said. “This is not anything more than the way we would agree to work through the process of governing together civilly.”
Though he shied away from providing specific examples, Newcomer pointed out that past discussions among council members, and among their constituents, have occasionally been marred by vitriol.
The code “is a way to say, let’s remember (to be civil) at the beginning of the discussion,” he said.
His hope is that council would adopt it first, work with it for a while, and then pass it down to the township’s various committees.
The other members of council, who Newcomer said he met with individually before introducing the idea, agreed with the spirit of Newcomer’s suggestion. However, township manager Scott Carew and solicitor Anthony Drollas recommended using a less binding term than "code"—"pledge" was suggested—before council adopts it.
Council didn't take any action at its meeting last week, but Carew said he and Drollas would come up with the best manner to adopt Newcomer's civility plan.
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