Golden Rule Need Only Be Followed, Not Legislated

The following article was written by Rosemary Edwards, Ph.D., Chairman of the Travis County Republican Party:

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," goes the Golden Rule on personal conduct. While phrasings differ across the world, the meaning is universally consistent: I should treat you as I wish to be treated by you. Now, who among us hasn't strayed from the Golden Rule from time to time? A quick, heated exchange, the moment cools, and we soon wish we could retrieve the still-flaming words.

Like with so many things, frequency and audience are among the criteria for rating one's success in keeping with the tenets of respect towards others. So it was with great disappointment we learned that many Austin city council members, mayor included, have made a routine of disparaging city staff and citizens via email during council meetings, bandying back and forth juvenile and hurtful banter on their matter-of-public-record, city-issued email accounts, all while citizens (many themselves the topic of the cutting emails) are testifying on matters before the board. Emailing a fellow councilmember on what to have for dinner (chicken, it was decided) instead of listening to a resident speaking at the podium is bad; sending emails disparaging the city manager, city fire chief and other public and private citizens is beyond bad, and really something south of sad.

A dozen blocks north of city hall, in the statehouse, Representative Mark Strama (D-Austin) is advancing legislation this session relating to bullying in schools (House Bill 224). One would like to think that this sort of topic is best dealt with in the home, rather than be policed by the government, but this is hardly the first time a lawmaker has promoted the misguided notion that government can do better than mom or dad. Interestingly, if some form of this bill passed, and were it applied to public officials, the attention- and decorum-challenged electeds in city hall would be facing judicial proceedings in addition to the extensive public relations and personnel management imbroglios they've brought upon themselves.

What is the path forward? Clearly the mayor and other council members have apologies to make, promises to keep and people skills to learn. Alongside repairing the sizable damage done to personal and collective morale at city hall, the board is also busy developing its talking points in answer to serious and apparently substantive charges of flouting open meetings law, so judicial proceedings may well factor in after all. (In fact ethics complaints have already been lodged, and civil suits may well follow.) The first challenge alone is plenty; the two fronts combined make a resident wonder if there will be any time left to devote to city business. Surely there's no longer any free time to be emailing about what's for dinner, or to offer up exchanges like this about a citizen appearing before the board: "I liked him better with his mike turned off." Surely.

One way in which citizens can help our city's disoriented leaders along the path forward is by hiking to the polls later this spring, when several current council members face re-election. Silence may be golden, but the microphone for voters is always open.

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