I applaud Cathy Haley’s willingness to make public the uncivil behavior in Riverside and to register my support of her courage in taking this step.
Anyone who thinks this behavior is new to Riverside is either a new resident or naïve. There is a cadre of Riverside residents who think it is perfectly acceptable behavior to be rude, abusive and obnoxious at public meetings and to berate public officials, whether they are paid village employees or volunteers. It seems to me this is sort of a village tradition, since it has been going on for years and seems to be accepted.
If there is resident who is not aware of this behavior, all he or she needs to do is attend Village Board of Trustees meetings or commission meetings, such as the LAC, Historical, Preservation, Planning, etc., or read the archived minutes of these meetings.
I remember vividly the night a few years back when my husband returned from a Village Board of Trustees meeting at which some residents demanded that a member of the audience leave the meeting because of his behavior; that individual is now a member of the Village Board of Trustees.
As a former commissioner and subsequent chair of the Landscape Advisory Commission (LAC) from 2005 to 2009, some residents and three fellow LAC commissioners felt uncivil behavior was acceptable at meetings. I felt like a deer in the headlights, because I had never been treated so rudely in my life. The three commissioners continued this uncivil behavior in messages to my personal email account.
After one incident at an LAC meeting in 2006, I wrote a memo to the police chief, the Board of Trustees and the village manager expressing my unease. I received a lot of sympathy and support as a result of this, but the behavior continued. Finally, at my husband’s insistence, I stored the police department front desk phone number in my cellphone so that I could quickly call them if the abusive language escalated.
The residents of Riverside need to stop this behavior by standing up to disrespectful bullies be they residents, commission members or Board of Trustee members. Until now, of all our residents, village staff, commission members and Board of Trustee members, only Cathy Haley has publicly risen to the challenge, and again, I congratulate her. Strict adherence to Robert’s Rules of Order at public meetings could be a first step in the right direction, as there are provisions for “disorderly words.”
The question is, does Riverside want to be known for its Houyhnhms or its Yahoos? A nice place to live or an uncivil one that tolerates abusive public behavior? And has anyone considered the impact of this acceptance of disrespectful public behavior on the children growing up here?
Jacquelyn L. Paine
Jacqueline L. Payne is a former member and chairwoman of the Riverside Landscape Advisory Commission.