Take-aways from President Waldron’s responses to criticism about his gavel philosophy

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Waldron applause lines:

Gadfly finds a lot to applaud. For Gadfly, President Waldron frames his gavel theory in precisely the right terms. He is open to participation, acknowledges different points of view, believes in dialog, doesn’t believe in censoring.

“I think that people should have the ability to speak their mind as long as they are doing it in a respectful way, and I think that disagreement is good because it shows different points of view and perspectives.”

“we should be able to have a positive conversation in which we respectfully disagree with each other.”

“I think that a healthy dialog starts with the ability to express yourself, and if you don’t like what someone else is saying, I don’t think censoring their speech is the right thing. I think topping it with better speech, more accurate, or a different point of view is a fine thing to do.”

“I think everyone has a right to be heard, and I think they have a right to speak, from members of the public to members of Council. . . . I don’t think silencing people’s thoughts and opinions is a productive way to continue a conversation.”

“I don’t think limiting ideas that you are not in agreement with or unpopular is not the way to a healthy dialog. I think that you combat unpopular ideas with better ideas.”

“More conversation is always a good thing, whether you agree with those ideas or not, I think knowing what someone else thinks and having the ability to understand and allowing them to articulate is a positive thing whether you like those ideas or you think they are terrible. I think everybody should have an opportunity to be heard.”

” . . . to see how we can allow for an even more productive dialog that would make people feel as included as possible, open up City Hall to as many residents as we can get here, and to hear their input as well.”

Applying the theory:

While applauding President Waldron’s gavel-theory, Gadfly feels that, early on anyway, he fell far short in practice, in the application of that theory — and is certainly pollyannish in his assessment of what had happened on the ground. For instance, President Waldron apparently did not see what was plainly visible to the majority of us in the cheap seats in last year’s ragged personal interaction between two Council members. And Gadfly believes he can say with certainty that President Waldron totally misread the outcome of the interaction with Mr. Antalics he references.

“I went back and did some research on some of the minutes and some of the things that were said by members of council and by members of the public, and I just don’t see a lot there as far as violation of Robert’s Rules. Personal attacks, I think, is a term getting thrown around for political reasons. I think there’s a healthy debate, and I think there’s respect for each another on Council. We may not agree with each other, and that’s fine, and that comes down to the vote some times, and I like to think that we can move forward professionally. But I think there is a decorum here, and I don’t think that there has been a lack of professionalism.”

“if you don’t like what someone else is saying, I don’t think censoring their speech is the right thing. I think topping it with better speech, more accurate, or a different point of view is a fine thing to do, just like Mr. Antalics and I did this evening.”

Homage to the First Amendment:

Gadfly thinks that President Waldron’s invocation of the First Amendment as the basic engine of his gavel theory/philosophy creates problems, since, in Gadfly’s mind, he seems to use it to justify all kinds of speech in any kind of way. Gadfly wished President Waldron hadn’t gone “there” at all. Gadfly feels the sentiment in the room is that, yes, Roberts’ Rules should be followed, even if applied a bit flexibly, and especially in terms of decorum. Lack of “decorum” seems more the problem than unpopular ideas, and Roberts’ Rules speaks to that. At first, President Waldron seems to confuse the issues of content and conduct.

“I think that the First Amendment is strong and well in this room, and I have great respect for it to the point that I respect it over Robert’s Rules.”

“you might think that we should follow Robert’s Rules to the ‘T,’ but my view is . . . ”

“I give great respect to Robert’s Rules, but I think the First Amendment . . . will trump Robert’s Rules any day of the week. So if you want to point to Robert’s Rules and say these are the rules we are supposed to be following, I do respect those, however . . . ”

“the First Amendment is wide-ranging and it supersedes Roberts’ Rules of Order.”

Evolution of practice:

That said, President Waldron evolved over the year, later admitting Roberts’ Rules were violated, recognizing problems with decorum more, describing those problems vividly, calling for improvement, and even seeming to find some improvement.

“I don’t think silencing people’s thoughts and opinions is a productive way to continue a conversation. With that being said, I do think there should be a level of decorum and respect for each other in the room. And I think at times at the last Council meeting that was not there. I did not get any feedback publicly that that was a positive conversation. In fact, many people reached out to me that I saw and said that it was cringe-worthy and it was embarrassing. I think the tone of that conversation wasn’t helpful, and it’s my opinion that I think we can do better and we must do better when we get in to the dangerous territory of accusing people of things on Council.”

“Whether it’s warranted that people think the rules are being violated — Roberts’ Rules — which I think they are — I’m going to enforce them pretty liberally because I think the conversation should be open and fair.”

“I hear a lot different kind of tone than I did last week, Mr. Callahan, and I appreciate that you were reflective on that.”

“I think moving forward taking a little time to consider how our words are affecting other people in the room, it’s going to be beneficial.”

Involvement of Council colleagues:

President Waldron is open (and will continue to be) to “counseling” and suggestions for change from his colleagues, but so far, contrary to some strong voices among the residents, the message is that he’s doing a “fine job.”

“I’m going to take remarks from members of Council if they want to give a little course correction and think that I should enforce the rules a little differently. I’ll listen to the majority of Council if they have a strong opinion that the rules should be enforced differently. Although I’m currently president of Council, I would welcome feedback from members of Council if they think I should have a different approach. And I’ll try to balance those in the future as we continue these conversations under new business.”

“I did reach out to members of Council, and I did speak to everyone about their views. . . . During my conversations with everybody on Council, I didn’t receive any negative feedback about my style or my management of running the meetings, which I took to heart, and I took that advice to mean that I was doing a fine job running the meetings.”

“I have asked members of Council publicly and privately whether they did have any feedback for me in the management of the meetings, and I have received a little bit of feedback but nothing to the point where anybody felt that I should take a different approach to the way that I manage and I try to keep order in the room. It is an imperfect science. It is an imperfect science, and it is a difficult balancing act from moment to moment, but I am willing to continue those conversations with members of Council if I am elected to serve as president to see how we can allow for an even more productive dialog.”

———-

What did you see in President Waldron’s “defense” of his soft-gavel style?

to be continued . . .

Popularity: setting the record straight

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Stephen Antalics is Gadfly #1.

Distinguished Scholar,
[who is more scholar than Gadfly #1?]

I submit the following data to set the record straight as to who was the more popular Council president nominee with the general public.

There were claims that the large showing of support for Ms Negron for council president  at the recent council meeting did not represent the true will of the public-at-large.

The claim by some was that Mr.Waldron was the more popular.

Nov. 7, 2017, official election results do not confirm that claim.

Negron –    4,277   votes
Evans –      4,125      ”
Callahan – 3,990      ”
Waldron – 3,705      ”

Ms Negron was clearly the most popular choice. It appears that Mr. Waldron was the least popular of those seeking election.

Please share this with all on your blog, please.

Stephen

President Waldron responds: “There’s been calls for me to gavel down other members of Council when they are speaking”

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President Waldron has been admirably on the record and transparent in his response to criticism of his gavel-style, and it is important that we hear his own words.

January 2, 2019

I also want to make a couple general remarks which I’m sure some other members of council will want to jump in on once we get to new business about some of the accusations of some of the rules of Robert’s Rules, and my opinion on that. I spoke to Mr. Spirk about it, and I went back and did some research on some of the minutes and some of the things that were said by members of council and by members of the public, and I just don’t see a lot there as far as violation of Robert’s Rules. Personal attacks, I think, is a term getting thrown around for political reasons. I think there’s a healthy debate, and I think there’s respect for each another on Council. We may not agree with each other, and that’s fine, and that comes down to the vote some times, and I like to think that we can move forward professionally. But I think there is a decorum here, and I don’t think that there has been a lack of professionalism. There’s been calls for me to gavel down other members of Council when they are speaking, and I don’t see myself doing that in 2019. I think that the First Amendment is strong and well in this room, and I have great respect for it to the point that I respect it over Robert’s Rules. I think that people should have the ability to speak their mind as long as they are doing it in a respectful way, and I think that disagreement is good because it shows different points of view and perspectives. Again, you may not agree with that assessment, and you might think that we should follow Robert’s Rules to the “T,” but my view is that we should be able to have a positive conversation in which we respectfully disagree with each other. That is not prone to personal attacks just because we use each other’s names. That doesn’t mean that it is a personal attack. It’s just a differing of opinion. . . . I give great respect to Robert’s Rules, but I think the First Amendment, as Mr. Spirk would agree, in court rulings is that the First Amendment will trump Robert’s Rules any day of the week. So if you want to point to Robert’s Rules and say these are the rules we are supposed to be following, I do respect those, however, I think that a healthy dialog starts with the ability to express yourself, and if you don’t like what someone else is saying, I don’t think censoring their speech is the right thing. I think topping it with better speech, more accurate, or a different point of view is a fine thing to do, just like Mr. Antalics and I did this evening. And we can respectfully disagree on a different point of view, but that’s part of the process, I think.

September 3, 2019

I’m gonna try to enforce the rules moving forward fairly and consistently. That becomes challenging when rules are habitually broken, and I’m trying to give guidance and my guidance is pushed aside. I think everyone has a right to be heard, and I think they have a right to speak, from members of the public to members of Council. I’ve been criticized for having a light gavel in the past, and I can promise you I will continue to have a light gavel. I don’t think silencing people’s thoughts and opinions is a productive way to continue a conversation. With that being said, I do think there should be a level of decorum and respect for each other in the room. And I think at times at the last Council meeting that was not there. I did not get any feedback publicly that that was a positive conversation. In fact, many people reached out to me that I saw and said that it was cringe-worthy and it was embarrassing. I think the tone of that conversation wasn’t helpful, and it’s my opinion that I think we can do better and we must do better when we get in to the dangerous territory of accusing people of things on Council, whether that’s members of Council accusing each other of something or members of the public accusing, because that happens quite a lot, and I don’t gavel that down much the same way people go over the 5-minute time limit and I don’t gavel that down. I think people should be heard. Whether you agree with that opinion or not, the First Amendment is wide-ranging and it supersedes Roberts’ Rules of Order. But I would hope that we would have the respect for each other to adhere to those, so that the conversation can be productive. I hear a lot different kind of tone than I did last week, Mr. Callahan, and I appreciate that you were reflective on that, and I think open debate is a good thing. I think we should hold each other accountable for our thoughts and actions as well, and I think moving forward taking a little time to consider how our words are affecting other people in the room, it’s going to be beneficial. So I look forward to continuing this conversation publicly. Whether it’s warranted that people think the rules are being violated — Roberts’ Rules — which I think they are — I’m going to enforce them pretty liberally because I think the conversation should be open and fair, and I’m going to take remarks from members of Council if they want to give a little course correction and think that I should enforce the rules a little differently. I’ll listen to the majority of Council if they have a strong opinion that the rules should be enforced differently. Although I’m currently president of Council, I would welcome feedback from members of Council if they think I should have a different approach. And I’ll try to balance those in the future as we continue these conversations under new business.

January 6, 2020

I did reach out to members of Council, and I did speak to everyone about their views. . . . During my conversations with everybody on Council, I didn’t receive any negative feedback about my style or my management of running the meetings, which I took to heart, and I took that advice to mean that I was doing a fine job running the meetings, and I think if I were to continue as president of Council I would have a very similar approach to the way I ran the meetings in the last two years. I will stand by my record of service in the way I have run meetings. I have been criticized a bit for allowing people to speak too much. But that’s a criticism I will take. Whether that’s members of council or members of the public. I do have what is called a soft gavel, and I think in my opportunity to limit speech I have chosen repeatedly not to do that. I don’t think limiting ideas that you are not in agreement with or unpopular is not the way to a healthy dialog. I think that you combat unpopular ideas with better ideas, and that has been my approach to running and facilitating these meetings, and I would bring that to the table if I was elected to serve a second term. . . . More conversation is always a good thing, whether you agree with those ideas or not, I think knowing what someone else thinks and having the ability to understand and allowing them to articulate is a positive thing whether you like those ideas or you think they are terrible. I think everybody should have an opportunity to be heard. I have asked members of Council publicly and privately whether they did have any feedback for me in the management of the meetings, and I have received a little bit of feedback but nothing to the point where anybody felt that I should take a different approach to the way that I manage and I try to keep order in the room. It is an imperfect science. It is an imperfect science, and it is a difficult balancing act from moment to moment, but I am willing to continue those conversations with members of Council if I am elected to serve as president to see how we can allow for an even more productive dialog that would make people feel as included as possible, open up City Hall to as many residents as we can get here, and to hear their input as well.

to be continued . . .

What’s the rap against President Waldron’s soft-gavel philosophy?

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What are “you” saying in answer to that question?

Gadfly loves your voices. Let’s go to the tape:

  • “One of the things that concerned me over the last several months is a breakdown in order and decorum . . . so much so that this has been recorded multiple times in the [press].”
  • “While for the most part the meetings proceed normally, the departures are having a disproportionate negative impact on working relationships and Council’s reputation.”
  • “Council members have been unfairly challenged to choose between engaging at the risk of escalation or answer with silence.”
  • “It’s the responsibility of the president to assert control and to maintain decorum. And that hasn’t happened.”
  • “Council has to work together to get business done. Divisiveness and rancor follow when personal attacks are tolerated.”
  • “Public confidence is also affected when this spills out into the public.”
  • “The Council’s reputation is at stake.”
  • “It’s very important to follow the rules and maintain respectful demeanor during meetings. This is the president’s job.”
  • “Subjective freedom of speech can involve personalities.”
  • “This body suffered a tremendous deterioration in its image by the free allowance of subjective freedom of speech to allow members of Council to attack one another . . . unabated, creating a serious problem in terms of our opinion of them “
  • “What needs to happen is strong powerful control of subjective freedom of speech to prevent that kind of character assassination. It’s happened.”
  • “It will be interesting if a slightly heavier gavel will make a difference in the Council climate.”
  • “This is a shame . . . a big shame. . . . I’m very ashamed of a few of you, very ashamed.”
  • “If you can’t work with each other, you shouldn’t be here. . . . to be a City Council person . . . and put people down  in the paper . . . that is not the type of representation we need.”
  • “Sometimes the softer hand doesn’t work, especially when you are attacking your own members.”
  • “Listen to the concerns of everyone who has spoken out . . . . Listen to the fact that you have rules.”
  • “It does not look good for this City if you are fighting amongst each other . . . and it’s in the paper.”
  • “You also realize these recordings are on youtube. Everybody in the world can see them.”
  • “Really think about your actions before doing them, because I have pride in my City.”
  • “People have to realize that everybody is watching you. You are representing us.”
  • “All I ask is that you respect each other.”

Can we distill the comments and agree that there are three main concerns with the soft-gavel style:

  • There’s been a breakdown in decorum
  • that impedes Council work
  • and damages the City’s reputation

Now let’s look at President Waldron’s response.

to be continued . . .

Trap Neuter Release programs for feral cats

Gadfly has several times recommended Bethlehem native Alison Steele’s Radical Moderate blog — always interesting, always substantial.

This week’s subject of feral cats especially caught his attention because every few months we have a moving speaker at Council meetings wondering about City programs for stray animals.

And there are certainly such felines in Gadfly’s neighborhood. How about yours?

Gadfly had never heard of Trap Neuter Release programs.

This info could be useful.

Closing Packer Ave.: the true test will be if there is some sort of emergency on Third or Fourth Streets

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Dana Grubb is a lifelong resident of the City of Bethlehem who worked 27 years for the City of Bethlehem in the department of community and economic development, as sealer of weights and measures, housing rehabilitation finance specialist, grants administrator, acting director of community and economic development, and deputy director of community development.

Pilot study: temporary closing of Packer Avenue
Public meeting from 6 to 8 p.m. Jan. 23 at the
Broughal Middle School Auditorium

Nicole Radzievich, “Should Bethlehem close this major street near Lehigh University?” Morning Call, January 16, 2020.

Gadfly,

Lehigh is concerned with Lehigh. The Mayor and City Council must be concerned about the entire city and, in this particular instance, the nearby Southside environs. This isn’t the first time the University has floated this idea, and in the past the concept was panned by public safety officials. Today it is more than that, especially given increased development throughout the Southside and the resultant traffic gridlock that results along the Third and Fourth Streets corridors at various times. Packer Avenue has provided a third east/west option for drivers on the Southside, and with increased congestion elsewhere the jury is still out on how beneficial this would be for Bethlehem, for this lifetime Bethlehem resident. There’s a lot more to this equation than what Lehigh University is pitching. The true test during this 45 day period will be if there is some sort of emergency (God forbid) on Third or Fourth Streets that stops through traffic and how the Packer Avenue closure will affect the ability for motorists and commerce to continue to flow.

Dana