Uncivil War

City Council meetings descend into chaos

By Amy Gardner
July 2023

Hate speech and the lack of decency at City Council meetings are a shock. How did we get here?

Here’s my story. When letters to my councilmember and mayor went unanswered, I attended council meetings, first virtually, then in person. At my first council meeting, I learned other attendees were there to vehemently campaign for their personal ideologies.

I learned there was no room for alternate opinions. Audience members who disagreed with my comments turned to social media to criticize and mock me. I saw uncivil behavior at council meetings, including shouting and heckling.

I spoke with several neighborhood activists and learned many of us had similar stories. We were harassed when making comments to City Council. Our photos were taken and we were followed outside. We were verbally abused and physically intimidated. Some of us were threatened.

Our images were posted on social media. People were encouraged to target us, go after us at our workplaces, vilify us.
The issues I spoke about to City Council involved safety. When a child has no safe path to walk to school in my neighborhood, I talk about it. When parks have bathrooms vandalized and I find needles on the sidewalk and at McKinley Park playground, I talk about it.

Shouldn’t I feel safe to describe these problems at City Council meetings?

Several neighbors and I worked to create a voice that City Hall can hear. Our voice is called Midtown-East Sac Advocates. Over the last two years, I have hosted four neighborhood meetings.

We met twice with Councilmember Jeff Harris about safety and livability. After redistricting, we met with Councilmember Katie Valenzuela. Last summer, Mayor Darrell Steinberg spoke to our community group.

These meetings had a few outbursts, but we reined in emotions and kept the discussion productive.

I helped organize the meetings. We followed general rules to host an effective gathering. They were productive, nothing like City Council.

Council meetings have devolved into shouting matches. Verbal communication and respect have disappeared. The mayor and councilmembers are now reduced to holding up signs. We’ve heard public speakers spread hate speech. Police had to restore order. This didn’t happen overnight.

The mayor and City Council allow leniency toward various ideologues and speech, which encourages habitual, disrespectful behavior. There is no effort to return to polite and productive discourse. Basic rules of decorum are gone.

The city publishes City Council rules of procedure. To make civil government function, we all need to follow these rules—elected officials, city staff, presenters and citizens.

Please, Mayor Steinberg and City Council members, return decorum to the chamber. It belongs to all of us, not just those with the loudest, most threatening voices.

Our local government can’t work without it.

Amy Gardner is a founding member of Midtown-East Sac Advocates. She can be reached at sacwalksafe@gmail.com.

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