Civility at public meetings is necessary

Public government meetings are a forum for elected and appointed officials to discuss and decide important issues that affect their community and to receive feedback from residents to help shape their conclusions.

Traditionally in Columbus, decorum has been at the forefront of such meetings, with respect shown to individuals even when differences of opinion were clear.

Unfortunately, an incident at a recent meeting of the CAFO Regulation Study Committee illustrated the unfortunate side of emotions boiling over on a contentious issue.

The committee has been trying for a year to determine if changes to local ordinances are needed regarding the establishment of confined animal feeding operations. What has resulted is two clear camps within the committee: those who want stricter regulations and those who favor more lenient rules. The sides have been unable to compromise and present county commissioners with unanimous recommendations.

Interested and concerned residents have been following the committee’s efforts, some regularly attending the meetings and asking questions about their work. Things were fine until the Aug. 4 meeting.

A male observer, upset with comments made by a committee member as she was leaving, approached the speaker’s seat and used loud and coarse language to disagree with her and express his displeasure with the lack of progress by the committee. He then followed the committee member into the hallway, shouted at her and invaded her personal space. A fellow committee member intervened and pushed the man to the floor.

County commissioners asked the man not to attend any more CAFO committee meetings and decided that a police presence at future committee meetings — like they are routinely for city government meetings — was necessary.

The idea, and necessity, of having officers at local government meetings reflects a sad state of affairs.

Government meetings are a venue for the marketplace of ideas and discussion of their merits and present an opportunity to do so without having to resort to violence for one opinion to prevail.

Decorum and respect for individuals are paramount for public meetings to work properly and effectively. Let’s keep that in mind moving forward.