What's Up with Those "Civility" Campaign Yard Signs in Webster Groves?

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Ken Burns has put up more than 100 yard signs since he filed to run for a seat on the Webster Groves City Council.
  • Ken Burns has put up more than 100 yard signs since he filed to run for a seat on the Webster Groves City Council.
Ken Burns' campaign yard signs would suggest that he's taking a rather quizzical tack in his hopes to win one of the three open city council seats in Webster Groves on April 6.

In red capitalized letters, the signs read: "CIVILITY."

Hmmm.

An architect who has never before run for political office, Burns, 58, has lived in Webster Groves -- "six square miles of the American dream," as a controversial CBS documentary once proclaimed it -- for more than a quarter-century. As to his reason for making civility his campaign theme, well, he says, he simply likes the word.

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"It speaks to who I am, one with a good temperament, a patient, reasonable person. It is a good word," Burns adds, sounding somewhat like Chauncey Gardiner, the simple gardener in Being There, whose TV-informed utterances are mistaken for profundity.

"I think it is a good way for government to handle itself. You know, civil behavior cannot be a bad thing, right?"

When nudged to elaborate on whether the sign implies his belief that there is a lack of civility in Webster Groves' government, Burns hints there might be a bit more to this.

"Yes, I've done more than 100 projects in Webster over the past 25 years," says Burns, "and I have had some rather noted differences with the city's architectual review board." He did not go into specifics.

His opponents, meanwhile, are not sure what to think of Burns' signs -- nor is Mayor Gerry Welch.

"I don't know why he has done this," says Welch. "We certainly have a very civil discourse in our council meetings and so on."

"I have never talked with him," volunteers Toni Joyce-Hunt, one of the four council contenders running. "But we do have a candidate forum on Thursday (March 18), and I'm anxious to find out what he means by that."

Says candidate Fred Hill: "I don't want to get into it. I do know he's had some problems with the [architectual review] board."

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