DEL MAR — From roundabouts and affordable housing to building codes and replacing City Hall, Del Mar residents often have strong opinions about what’s going on in their city. And they are rarely shy when it comes to voicing them.
In an effort to keep those sometimes-passionate views in check, council members at the Feb. 16 meeting unanimously agreed to adopt a code of civil discourse and possibly provide training in conflict resolution.
The idea came from Mayor Sherryl Parks and Councilman Dwight Worden, who recently attended a National Conflict Resolution Center training program.
Their main take-away points from the event were comments such as incivility is not as effective in getting what we want, introducing tools into the community for effectively addressing conflict can overcome differences, proactive training can lead to increased collegiality, and effective management of conflict allows us to enjoy one another.
“In Del Mar we have just an unbelievable pool of talent at the council level, at the staff, in the community and in our advisory groups,” Worden said.”But surprisingly one of the areas that we haven’t really spent much time with training or education or facilitation is in conflict resolution.
“And sometimes conflicts that come up in our community get in the way of us making progress and being able to work together,” he added. “This is a pretty cool program that could have some traction and benefit in Del Mar.
“It’s an advisory statement of the kind of civil interactions that we expect at the council level and on down to through all the advisory committees,” Worden said.
“I know it’s kind of rattling around the community that sometimes, based on all the things that go on, we get into polarization and heated discussion,” Councilman Terry Sinnott said. “It seems to me that this is a tool that could really be beneficial.
“You always hear about the Del Mar way,” he added. “And the Del Mar way sometimes has some negative aspects to it, where it talks about delay, controversy, whatever. This has the potential, I think, of being the new Del Mar way, where it’s branded in a way that says we respect everybody, we want to listen to everybody, we want to come to the best solutions to things.”
Councilman Don Mosier said he participated in similar programs for his job and the information has served him well in his career.
“The way not to influence other people is to get loud and boisterous and say, ‘It’s my way or the highway,’” he said. “That just turns everybody off. That doesn’t happen very often in Del Mar, but sometimes it does.
“So if you want to advocate for a position you should learn to advocate successfully for it,” he added. “I think the council is all willing to listen to different points of view, but I think this kind of code is useful not only for making more productive meetings but for advancing your point of view and getting other people to agree with it.”
The center offers a variety of training programs Parks and Worden recommended making available for about 25 members of staff, advisory committees and the community.
The three- to four-hour session would cost approximately $2,500. They suggested partnering with one of the city’s nonprofit groups to share the fee and solicit participants.
Attendees could also help pay for the training, they said.
“Not everybody would necessarily want to go but (for) those who want to be better communicators and want to be more effective, if we had programs they could participate in I think that would be a good thing,” Worden said.
To kick off the program, staff will return with a code that will include tenets such as promoting an inclusive environment where diverse perspectives are shared, listening and asking questions to understand the positions of others, showing respect for ideas one may disagree with and avoiding personal attacks.
The code will be branded to reflect Del Mar and be posted on the city website, in council chambers and in other areas where public meetings are held.
“It could provide effective guidance to all participants in city processes on the civility that is
expected,” Parks and Worden wrote in a memo.
Councilman Al Corti said the statements seem like common sense.
“We all feel this way” he said. “But I think it is really important to say it and put it in writing.”
No one from the public addressed council to share their views on the proposal.