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Civility 'Code' Aimed at Improving Council Discourse

Civility in politics? Is that even possible? Councilman Greg Newcomer hopes so.

“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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Joe Johnson February 21, 2013 at 02:51 PM
I think this is unnecessary. Why can't we trust our elected officials to behave appropriately? If they decide not to, isn't that what elections are for? To change out the bad politicians or those who we no longer agree with? We don't need a pledge, or a code, or a law when we already have the voice of the ballot box every couple of years.
Choir Voice February 21, 2013 at 03:00 PM
The laws of love for our fellow man comes from far beyond our grasp. No laws made by man can change a person's heart. We need not pass codes of civility, but we instead need to believe our elected individuals will bow their heads and seek guidance from a higher power to make their hearts and intentions pure. And I believe that these five are good and decent people who do not need this to be a law to be good stewards of civility.
I heart Mo-town February 21, 2013 at 03:39 PM
Really? If you need a 'code' or a 'pledge' to be nice - then the issues are far greater than we probably want to go. I do believe that society, in general, is less kind than it used to be. There is more 'my way or the highway' attitudes among many folks these days (both politically and in general). The days of a binding handshake, or people keeping their word, or a general level of respect is not what it used to be. That being said, I would expect there to be disagreements among the members of council - and the men and women on council should expect this as well. I'm not sure what has been going on (if anything) behind the scenes to prompt this, but is it so bad that we have to apply a 'code'? We all know that some people are more aggressive than others - and both respect and the ability to listen could go a long way. But I don't think you can sign in a code to make people behave a certain way. They are nice people or they aren't - a code won't change that! If a code needs to be put in place to try to force people to be respectful, then get rid of the offenders - ask them to step down. I think the mature adults far out-weigh those inclined to temper-tantrums - or whatever it is that has prompted this crazy idea!
Bull Pitt February 21, 2013 at 04:53 PM
Poor Mo-Town, we don't have to worry about such things in Cinnaminson. We are a one-party rule, so there is no need to argue. Our committee can just agree to do whatever they want and not worry about what the public thinks. They can hire any firm they want, or whoever contributed the most money to their party. There is no transparency, and no need for public input, because if one disagrees, they are told to be quiet or be pushed out. Be thankful you have a two party counsil, they will keep each other somewhat in line, and sometimes it will be uncivil, and probably should be.
Our Town February 21, 2013 at 05:02 PM
Isn't this part of functioning within a social society? Do we really need a 'code' to treat people properly? If a group of people cannot act in a civil manner in small town politics, then shame on us for putting them there. This should be an outcome of living life, not some silly pledge or code.
John K February 21, 2013 at 06:07 PM
One-party rule in Mo'town the past 2 years did NOT prevent a lot of back-biting and bickering on the town council. From a lot of the comments here, you'd think people prefer the kind of politics currently prevailing in Washington where arlmost no legislating gets done and they move from one manufactured crisis to the next. I agree that this doesn't have to be written into "code", but an agreement among all council members to try to work together in a cooperative spirit to get things done wouldn't hurt. I also suspect that if this initial proposal had been offered by one of the four "Rs" on the council instead of the lone Dem, you wouldn't have seen most of the comments posted here on the Patch today!
Soccer Mom February 21, 2013 at 06:29 PM
We can do better than spending our time legislating civility. We've got huge issues facing us, and this is the best we see out of Greg Newcomer? Glad I voted for Palko over this guy, will likely vote against him again in 2016!
Soccer Mom February 21, 2013 at 06:33 PM
I for one expect this from my councilmembers - and honestly, I expect them to disagree loudly and fervently if and when one of them is wrong on an issue. They are from different parties, so yes, from different ideologies, and therefore will disagree (heatedly, sometimes). That's what we elect them to do! To slug it out and come to solutions, not to promise that they will gather and sing kumbayah every time there is a disagreement!
Donna Morgan February 21, 2013 at 06:35 PM
Except we wouldn't see Victoria (or Phil, or Stacey, or Chris) put out something this useless. They are trying to find solutions to real problems like Lenola, apparently Mr Newcomer is more focused on everyone "just getting along"
Donna Morgan February 21, 2013 at 06:35 PM
Pointless and useless to put out something like this. Can't we choose instead to focus on issues that matter like others said above?
Quaker Made February 21, 2013 at 06:56 PM
How is this for civility: Why don’t you mind your own business and stay on your own Patch Cinnaminson. We have our own problems and could really care less what you think!
Quaker Made February 21, 2013 at 06:57 PM
Don’t we have way bigger fish to fry then something as trivial as this?
ML February 21, 2013 at 07:55 PM
I think the comments on this article are evidence enough that everyone in Moorestown needs to take a pledge of civility. Ridiculous.
NObama February 21, 2013 at 08:11 PM
Just because we all find it offensive that this guy seems to think grown adults can't decide for themselves how to act and behave? Yeah, we are the problem here, the ones who dont think government has a role in telling us how to live our lives and how we should act!
ML February 21, 2013 at 08:14 PM
Well, I read Patch every day, and it's clear to me that a lot of Moorestonians don't decide to act and behave civilly. I'd love to be proven incorrect, but I don't see that happening any time soon.
NObama February 21, 2013 at 08:14 PM
It's another way for government to tell people how they should act. NO THANK YOU
Donna Morgan February 21, 2013 at 08:17 PM
I agree there are those that don't behave civilly, so I can give you that. However, are you saying we should therefore impose an actual government "code" on how to behave for grown adults, the very adults we elect as our leaders and place our faith in to represent us? Like someone else said on here, that's why elections exist. If they act like someone we don't want in office, we can choose to throw them out.
Donna Morgan February 21, 2013 at 08:19 PM
I agree with Rob Kirk on this one. If any of them want to fight it out, let it be. If we grow tired of it, we throw them out.
This Is Our Town February 21, 2013 at 08:22 PM
From the Conscience of a Conservative: "My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them. It is not to inaugurate new programs, but to cancel old ones that do violence to the Constitution, or that have failed in their purpose, or that impose on the people an unwarranted financial burden."
Elzandra February 21, 2013 at 09:22 PM
At least Mr. Newcomer tries to offer new ideas. He must have a reason for suggesting this. Rs are already running the next election - made a recent statement attaching only their names and leaving him out. But we know about the games they play. What will they do about taxes - an issue that really matters? Bet they don't have a clue! "Drink" up the surplus?
American Woman February 21, 2013 at 09:33 PM
New ideas don't always equal good ideas. And this isn't a good idea.
Life Will Find a Way February 21, 2013 at 09:39 PM
Republicans come up with an idea. Republicans make a statement about their idea. Democrats upset that they didn't get any credit for the Republican idea. Democrats complain.
mack the knife February 21, 2013 at 10:05 PM
Donna Morgan 1:35 pm on Thursday, February 21, 2013 Except we wouldn't see Victoria (or Phil, or Stacey, or Chris) put out something this useless. They are trying to find solutions to real problems like Lenola, apparently Mr Newcomer is more focused on everyone "just getting along" I agree with Donna. What are Phil, Victoria, Stacy and Chris' real solutions to cutting taxes, spending and making Moorestown affordable to live in?
rollingmyeyes February 22, 2013 at 12:23 AM
Is a code necessarily legislation? Or is it establishing ground rules? We've all been in coversations (this one, for instance) where the way something was said (personal attacks, lack of insight to one's contribution to the problem, viciousness) detracted from what was being said.
M McPherson February 22, 2013 at 12:45 AM
We really don't need a code, so I would say this is definitely nanny government.
Holly Myers February 22, 2013 at 01:44 AM
I haven't seen the code - and I would want to know what it actually says - before passing judgment about it. I'd bet that every single one of the substantial issues facing Town Council will be more effectively addressed if a climate of respectful listening and communication is established. The comments that appear right here in Patch clearly reveal we do not have such a climate at present. Thus - this COULD become one of the most important agreements made by Town Council - with ripple effects that enhance life throughout Moorestown - and beyond. Not a waste of time at all. 'Seems to me that gratitude - or at least a 'wait and see' attitude - is the more appropriate response to the suggestion made by Mr. Newcomer. That's what I'm choosing. Thanks for 'listening'.
Suzanne D February 22, 2013 at 02:32 AM
Tell me Mayor Jordan will block this. She needs to do what we wanted by giving her a majority to work with. We need lower spending, lower taxes, and no more big government stuff like this ridiculous code. If not, we might as well have had Mayor Hines or Mayor Newcomer after all that.
Kate February 22, 2013 at 03:04 AM
This is a bad idea. What happens if the code gets violated? Patch letters against each other? Lawsuits? Political smears in the campaigns? No thank you!!!!
Bird's Eye View February 22, 2013 at 05:30 AM
Ok Greg perhaps you could discard the "code" idea. let mr drollas and scott carew know you will remove that item from the agenda. No offense, but There isn't a need or a want for this.
LululeMom February 22, 2013 at 12:51 PM
“name calling” on an article about civility ~ how appropriate, yet tragic

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