City Council Rules that Can Build Trust
The City Council is debating its rules. One small change in these rules would ensure that citizens who testify are heard and help build trust.
Every Councilor can ask a question when someone testifies.
That question can be to seek clarification by paraphrasing what they heard.When a citizen gives testimony before the Council or planning commission it's easy to see their nervousness, the emotion and sometimes their struggle to state their position. For many, it is not an easy thing to do. Some must screw up their courage to come forward when their name is called to testify. Others do so with so much emotion and anger as to be off-putting.There might be a question when they're done, or a thank you.
But never is there an acknowledgment of the essence of the testimony no matter how thoughtful, or passionate. Seldom if ever does a citizen stand up and walk away feeling that they have been heard. Imagine your partner frustrated with your spending habits, socks on the floor or the messy kitchen, again. Try saying, "thank you, dear" and walking away without acknowledging what s/he said. You will feel the anger grow and the chill descend. All of us want to be heard. We need to be heard. And when we are not heard there is an emptiness that is usually filled with feelings of irritation and disrespect. This dynamic feeds the edginess that is too often a part of our city's culture.To change this dynamic, we need more trust that only happens when a person feels understood. "Relationships move at the speed of trust and positive social change moves at the speed of relationships." With poor relationships there is little positive social or cultural change. Worse still, poor relationships and little trust result in a culture of disrespect and suspicion. Respect happens when we get heard.Existing Council rules allow a councilor to ask a question of someone testifying. Any councilor can ask to see if they understand what has been said. "So, Mrs. Smith, is it your position that too often City staff don't engage your neighborhood association before making important changes in your neighborhood? We don't need to agree. We need to hear and understand. This is a place to begin. When we listen and acknowledge, a climate of respect is established. This is the climate that enriches our committees, Council, working groups and our city. There is nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Robert McCarthy is a resident of the Bolton neighborhood of West Linn.
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