No disputing new venture

November 21, 2008
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Grand Valley Metro Council is thinking of creating a mediation center that would resolve disputes between local governments instead of having to take legal action to settle a disagreement.

But GVMC Executive Director Don Stypula said the regional planning agency would not be directly involved in the arbitration process or in solving a quarrel that would come to the center. An established outside mediator would be called in to hear an argument.

“We would simply act as a conduit for funding and the service would be free of charge,” he said.

Stypula said the center’s mediation fees would likely run from $100 to $150 an hour — less than what it costs to hire a litigator on an hourly basis. Rather than using the council’s membership dues to finance the center, Stypula said he will ask area foundations to provide the financial backing.

But Grand Rapids Township Supervisor Michael DeVries asked why a foundation would be inclined to support the effort. Stypula said having a formal mediation process in place to settle disputes would add to the region’s already noteworthy reputation for cooperation.

He said the idea was welcomed in the initial and informal talks he has had with foundation heads, who, in turn, said conflict resolution was a message that would play well with developers and businesses thinking about coming to the region.

“They gave me a ‘thumbs up’ and said they were interested,” he said, while adding that the business and commercial real estate communities also supported the concept.

DeVries then asked why such a center was needed, as the county and five cities resolved their dispute over jail fees without anyone’s intervention.

“If nothing ever at all arrives (at the center), that’s testament to us,” said Stypula.

Wyoming Mayor Carol Sheets said a mediation center would help to keep the press from sensationalizing a dispute and might even be able to keep the media out of a matter entirely.

“For me, it’s a no-brainer,” she said. “So why not do it?”

Board members unanimously agreed to have Stypula take a deeper look into establishing the center.

“This is not binding in any way,” said GVMC Chairman and Grandville Mayor Jim Buck of the council’s vote. “We’re just moving forward.”

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