Editorial: Teaching and enforcing civility among public officials

As tempting as it might be to take Palatine Township board members to task for admitting they need a mediator to help them remain civil and stay on course in meetings, let's give them at least some credit for recognizing they need help. After all, knowing when you've gone off the rails is the first step to getting back on track.

A story reported by the Daily Herald's Bob Susnjara explains that the five-member township board wants to hire a parliamentarian to oversee its meetings.

Parliamentarians are experts on Roberts Rules of Order, the bible of government meetings. This person will be tasked with keeping the board working under established rules of procedure and enforce decorum, such as having only one person speak at a time. He or she would also be expected to defuse personal confrontations between board members.

Yes, hiring a mom who has experience raising multiple children seems like a lower-cost solution. But at $50 a meeting, which is the proposed pay rate, this isn't really about the money. The core issue here is respecting people who think differently from you; the secondary issue is staying on track in a meeting in order to get the public's business done.

That is the core issue for every governmental unit. A high-functioning board respects all its members - and it follows established procedures to ensure that each member can weigh in without taking over. Nobody has to be best friends, or even personally like each other. They come together to do business and take satisfaction from doing it as well as possible within their constraints.

With every board that must strain to act accountably, at least one of those characteristics is missing.

Township boards, notoriously political as they are, often have a harder time. Unlike city councils and school boards, which are nonpartisan at least on their face, township boards and officers are elected by party and sometimes by divisions within the same party. This implies they will govern the same way, and in many cases, do.

Of course, if members of the board don't respect each other, they may not respect a mediator, either. In which case, what the board absolutely must do is bring in someone none of them has any connection to, political or otherwise. Use the National Association of Parliamentarians or call the local League of Women Voters. Call a local college. Ask for names, and don't be afraid to go outside of Palatine Township to find your person.

If they hire a local politician, we'll know just how serious they aren't.

The parliamentarian should over time train the board to manage its own affairs, and then prepare to step back. After all, hiring this person does not abdicate anyone in Palatine Township from a personal responsibility for civility; this has to be a learning process for everyone involved or it's a waste of time. Not to mention the $50.

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