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December 30, 2003

2004 — A Time to Resume Mediating?

Joe Volz

Now that the New Year is upon us, the Frederick city fathers and mothers might want to re-energize that 21st Century concept that hardly had a chance last year — regular mediation sessions between the mayor and aldermen.

As far as I know there was only one session and it was closed, so who knows what happened? No others were scheduled. There was debating about who wanted more and who didn’t. Who knows?

But why not resume them for 2004? They could serve a number of purposes.

I would like to suggest a few changes, although I am open to arbitration on the issues.

For one thing, all sessions ought to be held in public. After all, these are elected officials. We ought to be able to see them in action. We do not hold our trials behind closed doors. Defendants are entitled to an open trial. So, too, should our public servants be entitled to open mediation sessions.

So you say, but perhaps they don’t want the privilege. They feel they will get more done in private.

Isn’t that a precious idea? When things are held in private, we often hear conflicting versions of the truth, as told by the participants. Let’s let the light shine in and let the populace decide who the heroines and villains are.

Now, I am sure the sessions would bring out a large crowd, no doubt a larger audience than attended “Witness for the Prosecution” at the Weinberg Center. So, why not move the show to the Weinberg — the theater needs the business -- and charge five bucks a head for a monthly meeting. We could hold them on a night that might usually be dark at the theater, like a Thursday. Or, maybe we could have an occasional matinee for high school civic classes — for free.

Of course, the sessions would be televised and that ought to eventually coax more people out. We could have a local radio celebrity, somebody like Blaine Young, emceeing the show to keep it moving or maybe someone from the News-Post. Roy Meachum would be a great emcee. He would be fair. He thinks the whole bunch at City Hall, or at least most of them, need a lot of advice. Roy is good at providing advice and since he looks upon local Democrats and Republicans, or most of them, with equal disdain, it would be hard to accuse him of choosing sides.

So, you say, what could be accomplished by such a circus? Well, what has been accomplished by the current circus at City Hall?

At least this way, the city would make a couple of bucks. We might even make up the revenue we lost when the city virtually invited the air show to leave town.

Well, what should be the primary topic for mediation? The Weinberg, of course, is a big one. How much should the city contribute to this troubled enterprise and how much control should Vinny Hughes have in running the place? How many other people are going to be involved in running it? Who gets to hire the staff?

But, first of all, good mediation would help our combative public servants learn how to play in the sandbox better with each other. In fact, it might not be a bad idea to put a big sandbox on the stage for the first session, give our honorable mayor and aldermen some shovels (plastic, so they don’t hurt each other in moments of rage) and let them divide up the territory.

A person who can learn to play fairly in the sand box, not seizing too much of the other kids’ sand and not throwing any in anyone’s face, is well on the way to taking the first positive step on the way to serenity.

Then, we can try one of those exercises so favored by todays leading psychologists. The participants practice listening to each other without interrupting. Even better, the participants practice talking in non-accusatory language.

Now, I concede that all of this is a long shot. After all, our local politicians do not have many good national political role models. The president and his men and women are constantly accusing the opposition of being unfair, unreasonable and downright mean. And that is just his opponents in the U.S. (He has a point with the terrorists, but that’s another story.)

It is even worse in the Democratic Party, where the million candidates running for president enjoy picking on their own party's frontrunner — at this point Howard Dean, who is Mayor Dougherty’s favorite.

But if the mediation works and we actually get something done and solve such pressing issues - like how many restaurant tables should be allowed on the sidewalks of the city — and how much the restaurateurs should pay the city for the privilege, then the sessions will be worth it.

Isn’t it pretty to think so?

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