Is it asking too much for officials to be civil?

  • Thu Aug 19th, 2010 9:13pm
  • News

Works well with others. That phrase or something similar can be found on every report card kids bring home, from kindergarten on through elementary school.

The ability to get along with peers is so key in those early years that it’s measured right along with academic achievement. Book learning is far from all that matters.

Working well with others is elementary in that word’s literal sense. It’s basic, an absolute fundamental.

How baffling, then, that some adults in high places forget those first essential lessons. Professional achievement is a big deal. But I don’t think it’s the biggest deal, not even in the workplace.

Two local stories point to how much serious trouble could be avoided if everyone followed that kindergarten basic of getting along with others. Step back from the recent news of former Snohomish County planning director Craig Ladiser and of Lynnwood Mayor Don Gough. Although their stories aren’t connected and are vastly different, they share at least one common denominator.

In both situations — one described in a Lynnwood City Council-ordered investigation and the other in a criminal case — there is evidence of a shocking lack of basic civility.

On Tuesday, in King County Superior Court, Ladiser pleaded guilty to one count each of fourth-degree assault with sexual motivation and indecent exposure, both misdemeanors. Ladiser is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 3 on charges stemming from an incident during a June 2009 golf tournament. He was accused of exposing himself and rubbing his genitals against the leg of a female employee of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties.

Entering a so-called Alford plea, Ladiser did not admit guilt but acknowledged a jury would likely convict him. He maintained he was too drunk at the Redmond golf course to remember what happened. The whole boorish mess shows a stunning lack of judgment and respect.

The Ladiser case is part of a larger story of allegedly bad behavior that could end up costing Snohomish County plenty.

Debbie McPherson, a former manager in the county’s planning department, has filed a nearly $1 million lawsuit in King County. It contends that Mark Soine, who resigned in April as deputy director of the planning department, failed to address complaints of sexually charged misbehavior in Ladiser’s planning department.

It’s a different story in Lynnwood, where Gough has lost his power to hire, fire, promote or discipline employees without City Council approval. Gough was the target of a Lynnwood City Council-ordered investigation after an assistant accused him of harassing and belittling her. The investigation characterized him as bullying toward both men and women.

Bullying, that’s another lesson learned in elementary school — you don’t do it. In school, it might mean a visit to the principal. In a powerful position, it might be a career wrecker.

Lew Bayer is president of Civility Experts, a business offering training in workplace behavior to companies, organizations and government clients in the United States and Canada. Training is based on the work of P.M. Forni, a professor at Johns Hopkins University and author of “Choosing Civility.”

“We spend quite a bit of time in training talking about social intelligence,” said Bayer, based in Winnipeg, Canada. “With our high-tech approach to communicating, a lot of us have lost what the expectations are. People lack social intelligence. They don’t read nonverbal cues well, and take liberties that an older generation didn’t. We were taught to practice more restraint. And restraint goes along with civility.”

Bayer said some businesses now write strict codes of conduct to make up for workers’ lack of common sense, and to avoid lawsuits.

It’s important for others to speak up and not allow bullying when it first begins, she said. “We teach people how to treat us,” Bayer said. “You can’t let it go on, or you’re actually giving those people permission to behave badly.”

These days, employers look for technical wizardry and business smarts. Let’s not forget the basic expertise needed for most jobs — people skills.

And in our public officials, civility should be a given. It’s elementary.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; muhlstein@heraldnet.com.