Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt is scheduled to moderate a panel discussion on bullying, following the screening of the documentary “Bully” at East Chapel Hill High School on Oct. 13. As Town Council doesn’t meet that Monday night, I hope many council members will attend. After watching recent Town Council public hearings, particularly on the controversial Ephesus-Fordham redevelopment, I think the mayor and some of his colleagues could stand to learn about the harm done by bullies and learn other ways to handle their frustrations.
All of us, except maybe Derek Jeter, have bullied at one time or another. My bully awakens when I know I’m losing and I’ve exhausted all other options. That’s when my Inner Mean Girl shows up. Admittedly, sometimes editors pay me to have her make an appearance in print, and I’m never one to turn down a quick buck. But that doesn’t make my bullying OK.
Wearing proper business attire and sitting behind a town official nameplate doesn’t excuse bullying, either. I’ve heard council members bully one another and speak disdainfully to members of the public with whom they disagree.
Perhaps some council members believe that all’s fair in development and taxes. Those of us who watch Town Council public hearings on development issues have seen one developer respond to council resistance with an anger-reddened face and raised voice and sometimes a fist slammed on the podium. I can’t think of a time that developer did not get his way. I also recall developers who have behaved more circumspectly. They generally leave the meetings loaded down with requirements to pay for extra perks the town can’t even bring itself to ask the strident developer to cover.
As human beings, we don’t need another excuse to justify our own misbehavior. If it’s too hard to look in the mirror to find examples of bullying, just look around you. Regulators that look the other way when businesses cheat undocumented workers out of wages. State laws that prevent same-sex marriage. Countries that kill one another’s citizens because each country claims ownership of a swath of land. All believe, passionately, that they are right. But that doesn’t make their abuse of power OK.
All of Chapel Hill’s Town Council members have been endowed with greater intellectual abilities than average. And Kleinschmidt and Sally Greene have been trained by some of the top professors in the legal field on how to win arguments. Kleinschmidt is so good at winning arguments that people pay him to do it for them. And when he’s sitting on the dais in Town Hall, he has the authority to have the last word in any discussion. With all of these advantages stacked in his favor, why would he ever need to bully his colleagues?
Discerning the difference between standing up for what you believe and tearing down others through bullying may not be easy. Before he speaks to the teens, I hope Kleinschmidt will go back through some of the council videos and pull out instances where he or his colleagues have bullied others. I hope he introspects, so that he can explain to those kids who are in the process of firming up their own moral codes how each instance could have been handled without bullying.
– Nancy Oates