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Citizens again urge City Council to support Civility Project

WILLMAR -- Local citizens are again urging Willmar City Council members to recite a nine-point pledge to promote civil and respectful discourse.

But one council member suggests the council recite the Ten Commandments as an alternative to the civility pledge.

Promoters of the Speak Your Peace Civility Project had asked the council last October to adopt the pledge as part of a community-wide campaign to remind everyone about the basic principles of respect.

They renewed their request at last week's council meeting.

"It's a great model for the council to have to share with people the bottom line principles by which you operate and by which we hope the other citizens in our community operate,'' said Dr. Doug Allen, president of Ridgewater College. "Most of the principles are simplistic and designed to improve our interaction with other human beings.''

Allen said the project encourages respectful communication among Willmar citizens. He said the principles cannot be legislated to force people to listen or not gossip.

"I've heard many of the arguments against implementing the pledge: It's common sense, we do it already, it's not enforceable,'' said Allen. "I would argue those reasons are precisely why we should adopt the pledge.''

Allen said the Ridgewater College Student Senate is among local participating organizations. Others include Willmar Junior High School, where eighth-graders Nate Erickson and Abygayl Nevarez said they are learning about the project.

They and other students presented a skit in support of the project at a Jan. 7 campaign kick-off meeting.

Council member Doug Reese said he was more than willing to adopt the principles, but had no problem with waiting until after the project is discussed at the council's upcoming strategic planning session.

"It's just a good, commonsense move on our part as City Council to show our support for this type of procedure and the dignity and respect for all citizens and people that we communicate with,'' he said.

Council member Denis Anderson said the message is very good.

"This is something we do need to discuss and I hope the council will adopt as a principle,'' he said. "It makes sense to me and I think it sets the tone for our community. We'll have further discussion, I'm sure.''

Council member Ron Christianson said he has high expectations of the people he meets, and he said the program appears to work well in elementary and junior high school. He hoped students by the time they are juniors and seniors would have learned how to be civil toward each other.

But Christianson said he didn't need to recite a pledge to do his job.

"As elected officials, we know that we need to be civil toward each other,'' he said. "I look at it as a type of suppressing freedom of speech or someone looking out for how I should act. I don't need that. I have higher expectations of people and I think we meet those.''

Allen said he does not see the pledge as suppressing free speech. "I think it encourages people to speak their mind, even those have difference of opinion. I don't think that you will be able to take the passion out of someone who feels passionate about an issue. It's more of protection of free speech.''

Council member Jim Dokken said he attended the kickoff meeting and said he was concerned about language on the project's Web site ( that refers to "targeting those who are uncivil.''

"I don't think uncivilized behavior happens at the council table. We are very civil,'' he said.

"I would like to give you an alternative. We pledge allegiance to our flag and in that we say one nation under God. God has Ten Commandments that he gave to Moses. I would propose that at each council meeting we recite one of those Ten Commandments instead. I'm much more comfortable with that. That's a very civil document.''

"Many times we don't live up to the commandments, either, but it doesn't mean that we quit trying,'' Allen said. "Maybe targeting is a bad word choice. I think it's up to all of us ... to stand up when we think someone else is not being respectful. We have an obligation to do that.''

Council member Tim Johnson said he did not favor anything that might even slightly suppress someone's thoughts or ideas.

"I worry about who is the judge of the standard of what's civil and be a tool to be used against somebody just because you disagree with them and attack them for not being civil when it fact they were,'' he said.

Mayor Les Heitke said the council will discuss the project at the retreat.