Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway released a statement denouncing the use of gender-based profanity after an alder used derogatory language toward a member of the public at a virtual Common Council meeting Tuesday.
The incident occurred around 8 hours into the meeting when a woman from the public was introduced for comment on an agenda item, according to an article from NBC15. After the woman was introduced, an alder was allegedly heard muttering the word “c***” into their microphone.
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In a statement released by Rhodes-Conway following the incident, she said the “culture and civility” of Common Council meetings has been rapidly declining over the past few months.
“No words of gender-based violence should ever be uttered by anyone, period,” Rhodes-Conway said. “No profanity should be used towards members of the body and no such language, verbally or otherwise, should be used against anyone in our community.”
Rhodes-Conway said gender-based profanity during Common Council meetings is unacceptable behavior from anyone, but especially from an elected official.
In her statement, Rhodes-Conway said public officials have a responsibility to their constituents to respectfully listen to their needs, whether Common Council meetings are held online or in-person.
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“The public has a right and expectation to be treated and listened to with respect when attending a public meeting,” Rhodes-Conway said. “City officials and staff must uphold that standard at all times.”
Since council members’ jobs influence the lives of residents, business owners and employees, Rhodes-Conway said City Council members are held to high behavioral standards and are expected to set good examples for the wider Madison community. Rhodes-Conway said Madison residents deserve better from their public officials.
Twelve of the 20 Madison alders agreed with Rhodes-Conway’s condemnation of gender-based profanity in a statement released today. Though, their statement critiqued Rhodes-Conway’s framing, saying that the council’s “culture and civility” has not depleted in recent months. The statement also challenged the assumption that the profanity was the result of this deterioration.
“Such an assertion deflects attention and accountability from the actual harm that was caused,” the statement said. “It is important that we agree on who is to blame for the outburst. There is little question as to the source and we ask that the person who uttered this word comes forward of their own accord.”
Rather than pointing to a change in the “culture and civility” of city council meetings, the alders said the increased public comments and debate surrounding issues such as Black Lives Matter are no excuse for the behavior of the single alder. The alders called for a thorough investigation of the event after the alder who used the profanity is identified publicly, according to the statement.
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According to NBC15, multiple members of the public are now calling for the alder in question to step down from their position on the City Council.
While Rhodes-Conway did not name or call for this individual to resign, she said alders should create their own systems to hold each other accountable for their behavior in the future.