MEDIATION IN LOCAL GOVERNMENT

This note is about Mediation and it is directed to those in local government or dealing with local government.

I only have one point to make. My recent experience in a professional capacity where the issues, the costs and the emotional input could not sensibly be justified demands making it.

It is important to reflect on Thomas Jefferson’s words: “The government closest to the people serves the people best.” The 125 years or so since those words were spoken do not dilute their truth and strength.

Local government is undoubtedly closest to the people, yet too many issues and disputes leave sour feelings between local government, its constituents and users.

But it is at the local government level that the greatest opportunity to address issues and conflict at an early stage arises.

There are of course, dispute resolution mechanisms already. In New South Wales Australia, for example, the Land and Environment Court has jurisdiction in numerous areas of local government with “in built” dispute resolution provisions for litigation already commenced. The model of that Court is by many, seen as international ‘best practice.’ Yet, like all litigation, it is time consuming, emotionally testing and in many cases very expensive, both for both sides.

There are too many examples of opportunities missed; to catch a dispute before it gets too far along the dispute, litigation road. Your mind is probably turning to examples already – land subdivision, development, infrastructure, roads, rates, garbage cans are a few.

The point I want to make is this: if the budget and expenditure for legal fees and costs of a local government area were analysed and considered against the results in disputed issues causing the expenditure, and then add to that the costs of the other side, it would be unsurprising if the phrase “there must be a better way” did not come to mind.

Mediation might be seen by many as a mandatory part of local government. In reality it can only assist in maintaining and improving relationships between local government, its constituents and users. Further, Mediation can, and should, happen before litigation has started. Local government staff can be trained better and mediators can be retained. It is inexpensive too.

Think about it because it works.

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