The acrimony that has often characterized Eagle Town Board meetings during the past 10 months was noticeably absent Tuesday night when members decided against adoption of a proposed official code of conduct.
"I think that this is a classic case of this has been about the journey, not the destination," said town board member Scot Webster. "I think there have been some great things that have come out of this journey. But this document, as the destination, does not come anywhere near where I want to be."
The Eagle board launched discussion of an official code of conduct following a dispute concerning the content of blogs and newspaper recaps authored by member Brandi Resa. However, from the beginning, the board recognized that an ethics code could not and should not hamper a member's right to free speech. Language in the resulting document doesn't include any prohibitions against private blogging or other modes of communication outside of board meetings, but did state members would "make no personal comments about other trustees or former trustees. It is acceptable to publicly disagree about an issue, but it is unacceptable to make derogatory comments about other trustees or former trustees, their opinions and actions without a clear factual basis based on the preponderance of the evidence."
"I have said from the very beginning that I had mixed feelings about this," said town board member Joe Knabel.
Knabel noted that the town board members are bound by the state's ethics code and adoption of additional rules, which could be viewed as an attempt to muzzle members, could be a lightning rod for criticism.
"I just don't feel in my heart the need to continue with a code of conduct," said Knabel.
Resa noted that she supported the concept of a formal code of conduct, but said the rules would press against free speech. "There's just a lot of slippery stuff, in my mind," she said.
Additionally, Resa said she had contacted the American Civil Liberties Union regarding her concerns, but she declined to elaborate about her discussion with the ACLU when Mayor Yuri Kostick asked her to. Resa said she reached out to the ACLU because she wanted advice about Freedom of Speech issues but did not send them the proposed code of conduct.
Town board member Mikel "Pappy" Kerst said he appreciated the work that had gone into crafting the code and suggested the board treat it as a guideline rather than formally adopting it by resolution. Town board member Anne McGibbin, who has done the majority of the research and refinement of the proposed code, agreed that the discussion regarding the rules had been productive and while she would be willing to formally adopt it, she would also support retooling it as a guideline document.
"I think this has been a good, cathartic exercise," said Kostick. He suggested using the code as part of a new trustees handbook - something the town currently doesn't have. Town manager Willy Powell said staff could develop such a handbook if that is the desire of the board. Members supported that route to resolve the code of conduct discussion.