LETTER: Lessons learned from Crosscreek mediation

Friday, April 9, 2010 | 12:13 p.m. CDT; updated 12:55 p.m. CDT, Friday, April 9, 2010

Having had to sign a nondisclosure agreement, I am not allowed to write about the Crosscreek mediation. But because the mediation has become an issue in the city council elections, and since I was involved in it, I believe I am uniquely qualified to discuss whether a mechanism of this sort should be employed to resolve disputes in the future.

To me, some form of mediation could be an important tool in the city's quiver. I participated because I believed the concept has merit; a format that allows residents and developers to calmly talk to each other rather than trading potshots in public meetings should be a good idea.

However, for the future, I cannot endorse the Crosscreek mediation model. First, the nondisclosure requirement places an unfair burden on neighborhood associations, which are local deliberative bodies that should operate in the open, not in secrecy. Negotiators need to be able to communicate with association membership, and that can't be done properly when straitjacketed by a gag order.

Second, both sides should have some say in choosing the mediator, and a neutral third party, such as the city, should make the hire.

Third, when developers directly fund mediation, the mediator is too open to bias. When the developer signs the mediator's paycheck, the mediator is bound to want to please that employer. Even if it weren't true in a particular instance, with an especially conscientious mediator, the mere perception of bias breeds suspicion.

I am certainly no expert, but there must be better mediation models that would allow for calm negotiation while minimizing bias and promoting public discourse.

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