Sam Abed left the office of mayor with dignity last week, despite attempts by his enemies to humiliate him by marring his farewell speech with catcalls and derisive laughter as he read his list of accomplishments. They ended up attacking their own dignity.
Yes, it is true that the former mayor had a reputation for being confrontational and authoritarian in the way he ran his meetings. Although I personally don’t think there is anything wrong with trying to maintain decorum at a public meeting and insisting that people stick to their three minutes of time at the speaker’s rostrum. But it is really disgraceful to treat outgoing political leaders in this way when they should be thanked for their public service. In Mr. Abed’s case it was 14 years of service both as a councilmember and mayor. Service that included earning the city a AA- rating—which is hard to argue with as being a positive good.
Incoming Mayor Paul McNamara has promised to bring in a new era of treating all sides with dignity and respect. That is something that everyone starts off by saying, but given his history and personality it is very possible that he will be able to keep his promise. Let us hope so.
One key to decorum is assuming that, although you may disagree with someone, the person you are listening to has a legitimate point of view and admirable, decent motives. Often at public meetings this goal is honored more in the breach than in the execution.
The other key is at least giving the appearance that you give a damn about what those you disagree with have to say. That was a constant criticism of the outgoing council. That they didn’t try to engage the opposition in any meaningful way. Because they had the votes they didn’t need to compromise. In such a case the only recourse is the ballot.
If the new council majority adopts this same approach it could fall into the same problems. But it doesn’t have to be that way. McNamara has promised to work with all sides to create a consensus. When you have a city as closely divided as Escondido is that seems to be the only approach that will actually work to achieve the public good.
His statement at last Wednesday’s Installation Ceremony was highly encouraging, although all the cynics out there will immediately dismiss its significance: “I really look forward to working with you, no matter what side of the aisle you are on, for this wonderful community we live in.”
I think it’s even more encouraging that one of the first groups McNamara will be speaking to, in January, will be The Republican Club of Escondido.
That’s a great sentiment to start the New Year with.