Editorial: Differing opinions should not mean the end of civility 

There is a certain level of civility that is expected in politics at any level. Whether you’re a high-level official working at the Department of State, or a volunteer member of the local select board, conducting the business of the public should be done in a civil manner, one that respects the opinion of all sides. Public officials should also work to find consensus whenever possible. 

Members of the public should also conduct themselves in a civil manner and they should respect the process that public officials have to follow.  

As long at these two things occur, the community will be well represented.  

Anyone who attended the Southwest Harbor Select Board meeting last week saw what happens when civility breaks down.  

The meeting, for the most part, went without fanfare. However, when it came to an agenda item about parking, things really went south. Fast.  

It wasn’t necessarily the parking per se that drew ire from those in attendance, rather it was what some residents perceived as a continued attack on a local business by a member of the board that bordered on the personal. And that wasn’t lost on those who have been following the saga surrounding parking by Charlotte’s Legendary Lobster Pound – because they had seen it before.  

For the better part of the last year, board Chair George Jellison has singled out the business and has made no qualms about it. What is perhaps more troubling is that it also appears as if Mr. Jellison was using his position on the board to address the issue on behalf of a family member who had also been vocal about the desire to eliminate parking along Route 102. The remainder of the board members spoke volumes – without actually saying anything – when they refused to make a motion that would limit parking in the area of the restaurant. “Sorry, George,” said one member of the board after realizing no one was going to support a motion the third time it was called for by the chairman.  

For their part, the citizens of that meeting also lacked decorum. As soon as the agenda item was announced, members of the audience sprang to their feet and started to yell at the board chair, who was never able to regain control of the meeting.  

Putting the needs of a community ahead of one’s personal feelings is a challenge, and it takes a lot of strength. Public service is not for everyone, but for those who undertake it, the bar is high.  

This meeting in Southwest Harbor is not an isolated incident. For the last few years, there have been a surprising number of outbursts both from elected officials and members of the public. In short, decorum be damned.  

In Ellsworth, school board members earlier this year had to seek protection orders after they were threatened at a school board meeting. They joined a list of other educators across the state seeking similar protections after being harassed and threatened by angry parents and members of the public. The primary reason for the abuse – differing opinions.  

We’ve been through a lot over the last few years and our patience has been tested. We’ve faced challenges and adversity and haven’t always agreed on issues. But what seems different is our ability to work together for a common good despite differing opinions.  

We need to understand that we can disagree without being disagreeable. That we can work through complex issues even if we don’t see eye to eye. Restoring civility and respect will go a long way to restoring our ability to come together to solve problems.  

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