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Aldermen candidates asked to address ‘toxic’ political environment

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Candidates for two Germantown aldermen seats recently discussed the perceived “toxic” atmosphere at the city’s semi-monthly meetings.
Three candidates for aldermen sat on stage in the Houston High School auditorium earlier this month at the Germantown Area Chamber of Commerce Candidate Forum and addressed the “contentious” nature of recent meetings of the city’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
Richard Ransom of Local 24 News served as moderator and read the submitted question verbatim.
“The political environment in Germantown has become toxic, especially so in BMA meetings of late,” he said. “Where do we go from here? How do you individually promise to resolve and end the negativity that has surrounded our political forum lately?”
Incumbent Alderman and Vice Mayor Mary Anne Gibson was called upon first to answer.
“I feel like I’ve been doing some hand-to-hand combat in (Board of Mayor and Aldermen) meetings,” she noted.
Gibson said civil discourse is a necessary element of government.
“Civility in those meetings is important,” she said. “Without it, we don’t get things done that need to happen within our city.
“We can agree,” she continued. “We can disagree. But we have to be able to articulate our message. We have to be able to do that in a respectful manner.”
Gibson said she is proud of the way that she has upheld the office in the last four years “with thoughtful words.”
“Because words do matter,” she added.
Jeff Brown, who is challenging Gibson for Position 2 Alderman, was out of the country and could not attend the forum.
When asked about the “contentious” atmosphere at Board meetings, Scott Sanders, a candidate for Position 1 Alderman, said the entire Board must cooperate.
“It’s going to take all five individuals working together, having open minds, a conversation about what’s going on,” he said, “and being willing to look at all the sides of the issue.”
Sanders, who worked with the U.S. Marshals Service for 32 years, said he helped resolve tension while working in Oxford, Miss.
“That office was at odds with the courts, the judges and all of the other law enforcement in the area,” he said. “The director was getting calls because people couldn’t work together.”
In less than two years, Sanders said he was able to help “bring people to the table and have open discussions and work things out.”
He added that he has the “skills to create a harmonious working relationship.”
Brian White, who is also running for Position 1 Alderman, said he has found it difficult to “sit through” recent Board meetings due to “the lack of professional decorum that some of our members have exhibited.”
“We’ve somehow taken on this mantra that it is OK not to have a professional decorum,” he said.
White said elected officials must “lead the way.”
“It is important that we provide the example to our citizens,” he said. “As aldermen, if we’re not going to do it who is?
“It starts with us,” he continued. “We can improve it. We can be encouragers to those who are there. We can be encouragers to our staff. We can be encouragers to the people who work so hard for us and our city. We should be thankful for the work that they do.”

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