Lake Elmo starts ‘Speak Your Peace’ civility campaign
LAKE ELMO — The road to civil debate in Lake Elmo started with pen strokes Tuesday.
City Council members and other residents all signed a “Speak Your Peace” civility project pledge in the City Hall council chambers before Tuesday evening’s council meeting.
The project’s main goal is encouraging “a culture of civility throughout the Lake Elmo community.” Another goal is changing the city’s reputation for discord and being hard to work with.
“We want to commit to be a city of civility,” said City Administrator Dean Zuleger.
Zuleger said the “Speak Your Peace” campaign has nine “tools of civility.” They are pay attention, listen, be inclusive, not gossip, show respect, seek common ground, repair damaged relationships, use constructive language and take responsibility.
“They’re pretty basic values. These are proven tenets that have had success,” he said.
Zuleger stressed that Speak Your Peace is not designed to stifle anyone’s views on a topic or become a group in which everyone agrees on a point.
“Civility is not about dousing views. It’s not a ceremonial group hug,” he said.
Mike Reeves, a Lake Elmo resident for 12 years who has worked in corporate conflict resolution, urged those at the ceremony to lead the city’s effort to promote more civil discussions on issues.
“Without leadership, these things fail,” he said. “It’s hard to stand on the sidewalk and throw rocks when someone asks you to pick up a shovel and start digging.”
Reeves joined Zuleger in criticizing the current harsh political discourse in both Washington, D.C., and St. Paul.
“(We) stand on the sidelines and watch people turn politics into a blood sport,” Reeves said.
People must realize they can have vigorous debate on a issue, then compromise and decide what is the right decision, Reeve said.
“At the end of the day, we can channel that disagreement in a professional way,” he said.
Reeves warned that if harsh political debate continues, it causes polarization that creates apathy and disengagement.
“When we get so polarized nothing gets done and we tumble down into the abyss,” he said. “We need your help to move this forward.”
Lake Elmo Mayor Mike Pearson believes residents will support the Speak Your Peace campaign.
“There’s a need for this. The emails I’ve gotten are favorable about it. Residents are excited about it,” he said. “It’s going to be some work. Time will tell, but I’m optimistic.”
Zuleger said the pledge-signing ceremony occurred at a perfect time, about a month after contentious discussions between residents and the council over use changes enacted by the council on four city lakes.
“In some ways, this is a perfect time for this campaign,” he said. “Sometimes you have to hit bottom so hard you bounce back up.”