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Civility

Posted: April 17, 2012 10:33 a.m.
Updated: April 18, 2012 5:00 a.m.

One of the great things about our political system is that citizens can openly and freely voice their opinions about elected officials and particular proposals that are under consideration. Such dialogue has been common in the controversy surrounding the proposed sports complex in Camden. Some critics have been vocal not only about the project itself but about the way Camden City Council has handled the matter. We understand many of those concerns; we’ve commented on prior occasions that council members could have done a better job of presenting their ideas and accepting public input. On the other hand, there are many who support the project, especially younger adults, but have been more reserved in publicly stating their support. It’s like many issues facing the city or county: some favor it, while others oppose it. That’s the way the process works.

But it’s disappointing that some critics of the project have chosen to set aside good taste and civility. For a few, the conversation has become mean-spirited and petty. Especially troublesome are broad charges of corruption leveled against council members without any specific evidence to back that up. Disagreeing with an idea is one thing, but accusing people of being dishonest and of stealing is another, particularly when those charges are thrown about with no supporting information.

Janet Farber, who with her husband Herb has spearheaded the opposition, said at last week’s council meeting, “I want to tell you clearly here tonight that the suspicion of corruption is heavy in the air.” She also accused council members of basing their actions on “personal gain.” That’s a serious charge to level, especially with such a broad, nebulous brush.

Paddy Bell went even further, making accusations of theft against all council members except Willard Polk. “The great concern has become that many people suspect that this is not about community benefit but about personal benefit,” she said, going on to call the city’s plans “devious” and then daring council to “find yet another way to steal from the savings of this community.” She followed, “What is it that forces you to steal and smash our piggy bank?”

Charges of corruption and stealing, with no corroborating evidence, exceed the bounds of normal citizen involvement and go far beyond the outer limits of good taste. It seems, on the part of those who are leveling such accusations, that the matter has descended into a crusade of bitterness and ill will.

This newspaper has given opponents virtually unlimited space to advance their opinions, just as we have given that same opportunity to the city. We have fully reported the real estate transaction involving the city and Mayor Jeffrey Graham’s family’s business; he recused himself in that decision, which meets the standards of ethical behavior. And in fact, the total amount of newspaper space devoted to those who oppose the project has probably far outweighed the city council’s advocacy of it. Ironically, the Chronicle-Independent has never beaten the drum for a sports complex; we see both advantages and drawbacks to it. We have simply reported what’s happened, and who said what.

Over a period of months, both Janet Farber and her husband have made it their prerogative to denigrate council members and City Manager Kevin Bronson with abusive language and a lack of civility. Bell has joined that unfortunate course of action with her comments. Opposition to an idea is fine; we defend everyone’s right to be heard. But wildly accusing people of stealing, of doing things for personal benefit, of being corrupt, goes far beyond normal boundaries.

Many people who oppose the sports complex have done so emphatically yet reasonably. We have great respect for citizens who step forward to voice opposition -- or support, for that matter -- to particular governmental actions, whatever those might be. But it seems that Herb and Janet Farber, along with Paddy Bell, have simply let their animosity overwhelm them, as evidenced by their comments.

This editorial is not about being in favor of or against the complex. It's simply about the fact that nobody should be able to stand up with impunity and brand people as thieves and scoundrels. That's a violation of the most basic standards of good taste, and it's sad to see it happen here in Camden.

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