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Civility Message Gets National Traction

In 2021, the Municipal Association of South Carolina’s board of directors named the restoration of civility in local government one of the organization’s top priorities. The decision came in response to the growing trend of mocking, deriding or dismissing others — whether on the national stage or at city council meetings in South Carolina.

The Association formally rolled out its civility initiative during its 2022 Annual Meeting. Focusing on the importance of collaboration and consideration in the public sphere, the initiative has been prominently featured in Association meetings and in editorials published statewide. Civility pledges and civility resolutions now hang on the walls of the council chambers of in multiple cities like the City of Newberry and the City of Inman, and now the initiative’s messages are gaining traction among municipalities and municipal leagues elsewhere in the United States.

Nationwide focus

Given the trend toward more heated exchanges — in person or online — which can spill over into threats or even violence in the worst cases, the Municipal Association of SC was not the first organization to begin developing resources for civility in local government.

However, the materials the Association developed in 2022 have been adopted and expanded upon by other municipal leagues. Groups as far afield as the League of Minnesota Cities and the Arkansas Municipal League have been making use of these materials to push for local government conduct that works well and benefits all residents.

The Virginia Municipal League, for example, is sharing with its members the “pillars of civility” first developed by the Association. Intended as conversation starters to help local officials avoid the pitfalls of angry or dysfunctional public discourse, the pillars include items like “Be as eager to listen as to speak,” “Concentrate on facts, not theories,” and “Make your point about the issue, not the person.”

The Pennsylvania Municipal League, meanwhile, began circulating its own version of the civility pledge. The Municipal Association version, which can serve as anything from a posted item on the council chamber wall to a reminder at the top of an agenda, reads, “I 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 my city or town.”

The work has continued. The Arkansas Municipal League’s 2023 Winter Conference in Little Rock opened with a keynote address exploring free and open discourse in American democracy, and the ways to keep it effective and useful even when it grows angry or strained.

Most recently in February, the Municipal Association and South Carolina School Boards Association announced a partnership for both groups to share the civility initiative with their members.

Civility resources

All of the Association’s civility resources remain available on its website for public bodies to adopt and use. This includes a sample civility resolution, a ceremonial version of the sample resolution that councils can use for display, as well as a letter-size and poster-size version of the civility resolution.

Find these materials, as well as links to past Uptown articles and podcasts covering civility topics online.