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Archive for Friday, February 27, 2004

City leaders promote criticism balanced with civility

February 27, 2004

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Local leaders agree that Thumper's mom was wrong when she told her son not to say anything if he couldn't say something nice.

Instead of using the popular "Bambi" quote as a model of civility, panelists at a forum on civility Thursday agreed that criticism could promote change when it was presented with a respectful tone and delivery. Democracy won't function without debate, said panelist Deanell Tacha, chief judge of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which Kansas falls under.

"You must be able to disagree," she said. "We wouldn't be able to make good decisions if we didn't disagree."

Six panelists, including keynote speaker Walt Menninger of the Menninger Clinic in Houston, spoke to about 250 people at the town meeting, "Civility: Expanding Community Dialogue," at Kansas University's Dole Institute of Politics. Local leaders in law enforcement, justice, religion and education participated in the forum, sponsored by the Leadership Lawrence division of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce. Mike Kautsch, law professor at Kansas University, moderated.

Shirley Martin-Smith, a former Lawrence mayor, conceptualized the forum, but not because she sees a problem with incivility in Lawrence. It's important to promote discussion about the topic to instill civility in the future generation, she said.

Civility shouldn't be something people teach children and ignore in themselves, said panelist Verdell Taylor, pastor at the St. Luke A.M.E. Church in Lawrence. To set an example for others, people need to practice civility at all times, he said.

"We're expected to do that even when someone cuts us off in traffic," he said.

The panelists agreed that the best way to improve civility is to set a good example.

"Civility is within our control at a very basic level every day," Tacha said.

The discussion focused on the problem without offering a tangible solution on a citywide level, said Lawrence City Commissioner Boog Highberger, who was in the audience.

"It was a reminder that we all still have to work," he said. "But I guess I didn't come away with any clarity on what the next step should be."

Leadership Lawrence passed out questionnaires to the audience members asking for suggestions about improving civility in Lawrence. Martin-Smith said she hoped the surveys would generate ideas the city could apply without spending a lot of time or money.

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