Respect: Final thoughts on thoughtful debate

President's Message | By Greg Nagel  

At our last general meeting. a bylaw amendment was vigorously debated. The result was 11-10 against adding language giving the president the power to remove from a meeting a member who was not being respectful.

I had promised East Village Neighbors leaders to propose this amendment as a prerequisite for them merging into the East Village Association, and felt it had additional symbolic value. I had only half my board’s support, and as it turns out just under half the vote in the general meeting.

Many board members urged me not to push forward on this item but rather find other ways to promote respect within the organization. After all, there were reasonable objections, including the potential for the president to abuse the power and quell legitimate debate, and the vague nature of exactly what is disrespect.

With that said, I’m pleased that I pushed forward and took it to a vote. One result was we spent nearly an hour in our general meeting talking about what respect means. Just discussing the topic this long will have a significant impact on EVA culture.

And there was some value in losing gracefully. Hopefully, most people felt I was gracious in how I ran the meeting and dealt with this issue. I did get some very nice e-mails to that effect. So perhaps being a model for taking a loss in stride was good for our culture as well.

The result seemed immediate in the presentation that followed from Galleria Liquors. One member interrupted the presenter and fired off three or four questions without giving the person a chance to respond. I stepped in and asserted that the person deserved a chance to speak. The EVA member politely pulled back and allowed the presenter to finish.

Arguably this incident shows that with proper leadership, removal of a member from a meeting is not necessary. Still, I can’t help but wonder: Had the Galleria debate come first, would the respect vote have had a different result?

As an alternative to a bylaw amendment, I will be talking about respect at the start of each meeting to set the tone, and may even bring up the topic mid-meeting before a potentially contentious vote. Of course I want people to speak their mind and advocate their position, but in a neighborly way.

I have been at meetings where members have been rude and the president did not step in and set the tone. I’m not sure if it was leadership style or priorities. I feel somewhat confident that I have elevated the importance of respect within our organization and that we can run our meetings with open debate and respect. Can we maintain respect in our EVA culture in years to come? I hope so.
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