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Del Mar adopts code of civil discourse, offers training

DEL MAR — In an effort to use the city’s “deep bench of talent” by working together, council members at the April 4 meeting adopted “Civility Works: The Del Mar Code of Civil Discourse” and outlined plans to offer corresponding training sessions.

“We’re the first city to do this and I’m ever so proud,” Mayor Sherryl Parks said. “I’m looking forward to telling all our subcommittees about it.”

Council members first discussed the proposal in February after Parks and Councilman Dwight Worden attended a National Conflict Resolution Center training program.

They noted that when discussing controversial issues in the city “conflict can get in the way and impede progress.”

“Adopting standards for public discourse that outline our mutual expectations for civility could serve as a touchstone for healthy and productive dialogue for any and all matters,” they wrote in the staff report, adding that corresponding training “would strengthen our commitment, and our abilities, in this objective.”

The code will be posted in council chambers and all other areas where public meetings take place. It reads:

“Together we will:

Promote inclusion — Share and respect diverse perspectives

Listen to understand — Be attentive, ask questions to clarify and confirm our understanding

Show respect — Value all perspectives and look for common ground

Be clear and fair — Explain our positions and our reasoning

Focus on the issue — Embrace the facts and avoid personalizing debate”

The code sets out “the basic rules we all learned in kindergarten on how to get along and discuss controversial topics, to listen, be polite, what have you,” Worden said, adding that it should be included on all meeting agendas so people who serve on committees or testify at meetings know what the city’s  “expected civility standards are.”

The National Conflict Resolution Center provides a training course called “The Art of Inclusive Communication,” which teaches participants how to practice civil discourse, find common ground and gain the communication skills needed to move forward.

Half-day sessions cost $2,500 and can accommodate 24 people. A community member offered to fund three sessions for private citizens. They will be held this month, with the donor coordinating invitations.

The Del Mar Foundation offered to fund an additional course for the heads of city advisory committees and committee support staff. This training is targeted to occur in May.

Jim Forbes, a director at the National Conflict Resolution Center, said the training teachings the basic skills needed to actively listen to what other people are saying, take their point of view and “find a common basis from which you can move ahead and find a solution that actually works for everyone and where everyone comes out a winner in the situation.”

“To actually watch people participate in this is really quite astonishing,” he said.

Ideally, one or two council members would attend each training as an observer.

“We work pretty well together,” Worden said of his colleagues. “We’re not in the triage room in need of help … but it will contribute to the value of these sessions.”

After evaluating the four sessions a decision will be made about future trainings, participants and topics.

“The hope is that if we do these four sessions and it works as well as I think it will and is well-received, it’ll just become an engrained part of our community as a resource that’s available on an ongoing basis,” Worden said.

“I think it might be wise … to introduce the whole philosophy to all of our committees and explain what the intent is,” Councilman Terry Sinnott said. “It’s meant, I think, as a tool to help facilitate a process. It should not just be a piece of paper up on the wall. It should be discussed.”