The Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) has designated Cornelia as a City of Civility. Cornelia received the designation after adopting a civility resolution at its February 7 city commission meeting.
The boilerplate resolution outlines a civil code of conduct for city officials. Similar to the City of Ethics designation GMA recently awarded to Demorest and which Cornelia received several years ago, it’s based on professional standards that cities agree to uphold.
“We wanted to enter into the resolution which simply declares that we, as city employees and representatives, will endeavor to be as civil as possible to everyone. To not digress into shouting matches or act in a disrespectful manner to our constituents, or to anyone, for that matter,” explains Cornelia Mayor John Borrow.
“Most of these initiatives are simply codifying common sense; ‘We will behave in an ethical manner,’ or ‘We will be civil to one another.’ However, these days, common sense is less and less common,” he says.
Agreeing to disagree
Years of growing partisan political divides in America have led to a decline in civil discourse. In response, GMA partnered with its nonprofit, Georgia City Solutions, to create the Embrace Civility program. The program aims to equip Georgia cities with resources to create more civility in their meetings and among their residents and meeting attendees.
The Institute for Civility in Government, based in Houston, Texas, defines civility as more than just politeness.
“It is about disagreeing without disrespect, seeking common ground as a starting point for dialogue about differences, listening past one’s preconceptions, and teaching others to do the same,” the Institute’s website says.
A 2019 poll by Weber Shandwick revealed that over 90% percent of Americans believe that incivility is a problem, with nearly 68% percent identifying it as a major problem.
“I commend the City of Cornelia for embracing civility and adopting the resolution to become a GMA City of Civility,” says GMA CEO and Executive Director Larry Hanson. “We believe that Georgia’s cities have a great platform to model open, free, and vigorous debate while maintaining the highest standards of civility, honesty, and mutual respect.”
In addition to passing the required resolution, GMA provides a civility pledge that can be published or recited at meetings.
A reminder of how to treat people
Mayor Borrow says he does not see how or why Cornelia’s designation as a City of Civility would impede communication with or access to city leaders. There is nothing to indicate that it would restrict First Amendment rights.
“The whole point of the resolution is to say that we’re going to act in a civil manner, that we’ll listen to others’ points of view and opinions without offense or getting defensive,” he says, “which is what we do anyway, with or without this resolution.”
The mayor adds, “I don’t know if we necessarily gain anything from the resolution other than it being a reminder to us of how we should treat everyone.”
Cornelia is the first city in Northeast Georgia to be designated a City of Civility and one of only six in the state. The others are Canton, Covington, Decatur, Quitman, and Savannah.
To learn more about the Embrace Civility program, visit www.gacities.com/civility.