What does it take to get kicked off a volunteer committee? Ruby Sinreich found out recently when she was called on the carpet for some inappropriate tweets she sent during a CH2020 meeting. Sinreich was the co-chair of the outreach committee, and feeling frustrated during a CH2020 meeting, she tweeted publicly a derogatory comment that slammed the race, gender and sexual orientation of some people in the meeting.

The CH2020 co-chairs Rosemary Waldorf and George Cianciolo had spoken to Sinreich previously about some inappropriate tweets she’d made during an earlier meeting, mean tweets she may have meant as entertainment but alienated others in the community. Sinreich took those tweets down and made a round of apologies, though she said she “stand[s] by [her] comments.” Then another meeting and more inappropriate tweets, and Waldorf and Cianciolo stepped in again, this time asking for her resignation as committee co-chair. Rather than remain a participant in the CH2020 process, Sinreich packed up her ideas and left, convinced she could be “a more effective and way more authentic advocate from the outside.”

She should run for Congress. She’d fit right in, sitting by her lonesome, pounding her desk, threatening to walk out if she doesn’t get her way. That’ll show ’em authentic advocacy.

I’ve never asked Sinreich how old she is, but I’d be willing to bet I have a good decade on her. And here’s something I learned maybe in the decade before she was born, wisdom I picked up on the playground or living in a family with multiple siblings, or in more recent years as a wife or mother or person who works with other people: There are rules of conduct that dictate socially acceptable behavior, and if you want to be effective, you learn them fast and incorporate them in your life.

Rules of conduct don’t quash debate; they foster it, by allowing opinions to be voiced without ridicule. People who show leadership set the boundaries to create a safe environment for everyone to be heard. That’s what Waldorf and Cianciolo did by letting Sinreich know when she was out of bounds, and then imposing consequences when she didn’t listen after the first warning.

Once you’ve flounced out in a fit of pique, it’s all the harder to come back in again, but here are some guidelines that if Sinreich takes to heart will lead her back to a place where she can share her ideas in a way that people might listen to them.

You don’t build community by bashing people who are different from you.

You can’t work on a team if you walk out when you don’t get your way.

You won’t open minds if yours is closed.

And for goodness sake, turn your phone off in meetings and pay attention to the task at hand.
– Nancy Oates

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  1. George C

     /  December 13, 2011

    A brief clarification: Ruby has not said that she is withdrawing from the CH2020 process. She stated that she would continue as a stakeholder and continue to encourage participation from the underrepresented communities but she would do so outside of the Outreach Committee proper.

  2. DOM

     /  December 13, 2011

    I’ve read a couple of the tweets she sent and, as someone who was at the same meeting, I will certainly think twice before saying anything when she’s around. IMO that’s one helluva snide and unprofessional way to act, regardless of how stupid (or white) you think your colleagues are. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to take a shower.

  3. George C

     /  December 13, 2011

    Rosemary and I and the staff have done our best to try to insure that the CH2020 process is as open and inclusive as possible. We may not have always succeeded but it was not for the lack of trying. We hope that you will continue to participate in the CH2020 process as much as possible.

  4. Joe

     /  December 13, 2011

    Not to be nasty, but maybe instead of going to “visioning” meetings, Ruby and her husband can try to find jobs in order to pay back the tens of thousands of dollars that they owe the Town of Carrboro. They have been the only Revolving Loan recipients who, instead of having to pay back their massive loan with some of their real estate (acquired through a special town program, of course), have instead been given a 0% loan for several years. If she had any sense of shame, we wouldn’t be hearing from her in public until that loan is paid off.

  5. Terri Buckner

     /  December 13, 2011

    “You won’t open minds if yours is closed.”

    Good advice, but really, really hard to apply. There’s a fine line between having an open mind and feeling confident enough in your own ideas that you can advocate for change in others. And then there’s the issue of what purpose you are listening for. Do we need to listen to bigots with an open mind? Not for the purpose of changing our own opinions, but if we want to create cogent arguments for changing their minds, we have to listen and listening means having an open mind. It really gets pretty twisted which is why it is so hard to apply.

    Often in this town (and beyond), I see instances of people listening just to hear justification for what they already think. They aren’t really open to new ideas, but on the surface, it appears as if they are.

  6. Zachary H.

     /  December 14, 2011

    I find Ruby’s tweets inappropriate and generally rude, but I respect her right to her own opinions. The biggest problem to me is that she was tweeting or facebooking or myspacing or whatever people are doing these days. A self-proclaimed advocate should pay attention to those presenting, debating or speaking, rather than tweeting, playing angry birds or emailing. If you want to say nasty things that can be read by all of your followers instantly go ahead, but do it on your own time. The root of the problem is that people don’t view it as wrong to be on their phones during meetings and my response to them is:
    Do you let your children text or tweet throughout a family dinner? (If you say yes to this just stop reading)
    Do teachers let students text or tweet during class? (If you say yes to this you must not have done very well)
    Isn’t a meeting that may impact the future of a town equally important and shouldn’t it be treated with similar level of attention?
    What kind of message does it send to the speaker when your eyes are on your phone? (A BAD ONE!!!)
    Fundamentally it comes down to appropriateness and respect. It is not appropriate to use your phone during a meeting and it is disrespectful to do so regardless of what you are saying or doing. Sorry if I rambled, but I feel strongly about leaving the phones in the cars and I hope I am not alone.

  7. Tom field

     /  December 14, 2011

    If you want to volunteer your time, please leave any opinions that might hurt someone’s feelings at the door. The person in charge will decide what is appropiate. Now let us all smile pleasantly and achieve a wonderful consensus. Freedom of speech is only truly free if everyone’s opinion is equally respected. Truth can hurt, and it must be calibrated carefully to spare the weakest among us.

  8. Fred Black

     /  December 14, 2011

    If anyone truly believes this is about a volunteer in a leadership position expressing an opinion that might hurt someone’s feelings, then we have more serious problems than I thought.

  9. DOM

     /  December 14, 2011

    Fred –

    It’s about someone in a leadership position who objects to some other people’s opinions – and chooses to dis them in public. To me, that IS a serious problem.

  10. “There are rules of conduct that dictate socially acceptable behavior, and if you want to be effective, you learn them fast and incorporate them in your life.”

    Very well said. Having observed Ms. Sinreich on several ocassions in civic forums, she certainly strikes me as a know-it-all who thinks her opinion is the only correct one. And that anyone who disagrees with her opinion just isn’t knowledge enough. Lord forbid that educated, reasonable people can have differences of opinion! She’s certainly not above taking her ball and going home if she doesn’t get her way.

  11. Craig McKay

     /  December 15, 2011

    “If anyone truly believes this is about a volunteer in a leadership position expressing an opinion that might hurt someone’s feelings, then we have more serious problems than I thought.”

    Me like. Brilliant understatement.