By Cathy Salustri
When I was in middle school, other girls and more than a few boys liked to make fun of me and intimidate me. I got beat up a few times. It’s not a shock, really: I, uh, developed early but remained physically awkward, preferred books to people, and really liked to write poetry. I think it’s safe to say I was never a threat to the class president or the prom queen. By the time I got to high school, I didn’t care, and in college, I realized that no one else did, either.
The word bully means “a blustering, quarrelsome, overbearing person who habitually badgers and intimidates smaller or weaker people.” Interesting tidbit about the word bully: it originates from the Dutch “boel,” meaning lover or brother. In the 1530s it meant sweetheart. By the 1680s, a bully was worthy, jolly and admirable, which is where we got the 19th century expression “Bully for you!” Of course, that’s not how we use it today.
Bullies no longer bother me; I realized long ago that no one could make me do anything (my mom will vouch for that) I didn’t want to do. However, I can’t stand to see other people get bullied, whether the bullying is verbal, emotional or physical. And the city known for its sense of community is quickly becoming a bullyfest of epic proportions, at least at Gulfport city council meetings.
Oh, I’m not just talking about certain people who speak during public comment and make accusations about our council members. Perhaps following the lead of a few aggressive citizens who weren’t stopped when they got nasty, our council itself is starting to behave no better. At least two or three councilmembers are guilty of nastiness on occasion.
Worse than any of the ugliness, bullying, or slander we hear from either side of the dais at a council meeting, though, is the person who allows it to continue when it is within their power to stop it.
It pains me to say this, but the Mayor’s behavior over the past few council meetings and workshops is deplorable. He holds some people to their allotted time to speak but not others. He allows one councilperson to speak but cuts another off. Watching him over the past couple months, I get the impression he has some sort of specific problem with both Vice-Mayor King and citizen Al Davis, although not at the same time. He cuts off Ms. King but not other councilmembers, and any time anyone tries to applaud something Mr. Davis says, he says it hurts the clerk’s ears when she tries to transcribe the minutes. When the city gives an award, however, he allows the applause to continue, making me wonder what about the applause for Mr. Davis is so offensive.
He also seems unwilling to stop some people from hurling insults, even though the city attorney has repeatedly stressed that the mayor can remind speakers to refrain from personal attacks and address their remarks to council as a whole. That’s the mayor’s job. When Vice-Mayor King loses her cool or an audience member starts to accuse a councilmember of having an affair, the mayor should step in and stop it. It’s his job, but it hasn’t happened yet.
I don’t believe that the mayor realizes how much he tends to play favorites in these meetings. Instead, I’m going to assume that he feels bullied by certain members of his city. I’m also going to choose to assume that the bullies simply behave that way because no one stops them.
I’m not one to believe the best of people- most people have black bits in their soul - but logic prevails here. Councilmembers and citizens who get socially aggressive simply can’t all be bullies at heart. Bullies are only bullies when people give in to them.
Gulfport is not a city of bullies. This city is filled with passionate, involved, thinking people. But the city needs a leader who will stop the nonsense, who isn’t afraid to shut it down when someone crosses the line, whether it’s someone speaking out of turn on the dais or a citizen making a personal attack on another. The mayor owes it to the city to put a stop to the yelling, the slander, the accusations, and the personal attacks on both sides of the dais. He owes it to the city do this every time, without favoritism. Until that happens, council meetings aren’t about what’s best for Gulfport. They’ll be about who can kick the most sand in the weak kid’s face after school.
Your city is counting on you to remind everyone that that kind of thing has no place in Gulfport, Mayor. It’s dark days ahead for the city if you can’t restore order to council meetings.
But if you can? Well, sir, bully for you.
Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@theGabber.com.