Our opinion: The right way to disagree

Published 8:56 am Thursday, January 19, 2017

At a time when many of our national and state leaders seem to have lost the ability to disagree in a respectful manner, we need to praise our local elected officials for getting it right.

At the end of the Austin City Council’s work session Monday night, council members chatted and joked around like normal. Someone coming into the work session wouldn’t have known that the  council had just disagreed on an issue.

In short, most City Council members supported a plan for the city to donate the Austin Parks and Rec office building to the Austin Area Commission for the Arts for it to be part of the neighboring Paramount Theatre’s planned expansion. They called it a plan that will help bring people downtown and help promote downtown.

Email newsletter signup

However, Council member Jeff Austin voted no, largely because he didn’t favor the city giving the building as a donation since it wasn’t a traditional economic development or job-producing project. He voiced support for the Paramount project and acquisition, but he preferred the AACA to buy the property, which is values at $82,000.

Council members voiced their differing views and voted 5-1 to approve the donation with Austin voting no and Council member Laura Helle, the AACA’s executive director, abstaining.

Though Helle remained quiet during the discussions on the donation, she finally spoke up at the end of the work session as council members were chatting.

“I think Mr. Austin showed some class in speaking up the way he did,” Helle said.

Likewise, Council member Steve King thanked Austin and the other council members for pushing back the discussion on the agenda, since he arrived a few minutes late since he’d been out of town.

These may seem like small gestures of respect and a discussion on a theatre isn’t as necessarily a controversial topic, but the respect most of Austin local officials show one another sets a good example for the community.

And it’s not just the council. The Austin School Board and Mower County Board of Commissioners also boast strong track records of disagreeing and voicing differing views while maintaining a strong working relationship.

That’s not the case, as many nearby communities and national public figures — heck, just look at the deadlock that ended the 2016 Minnesota Legislative Session — have shown an inability to disagree with dignity.

It might seem like common sense, but it isn’t so common.