Thursday, 14 December 2017

Lower Hutt City Council and Mediation

This is a short post just to comment on the story in the New Zealand Dominion Post daily paper, about dysfunctional relationships within the elected Council of the Lower Hutt City Council. This council is a principally suburban district adjacent to Wellington, with a relatively small population compared to some. Like many smaller local authorities, they appear to struggle to get good candidates to run for council, and when there, they appear to have some real difficulties with relationships with each other.

It is worth putting a link to the article to explain the background. This is https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/99805130/jps-wary-of-lower-hutt-plan-to-get-them-to-settle-scraps-between-councillors

The problem appears to be that the councillors have very different views on a number of issues including whether council staff should be paid the living wage (rather than the basic minimum wage) and also arguments about getting free meals while attending council meetings. It appears that because of these disputes, the council has had to refer to outside lawyers and considerable expense to obtain opinions about what appear to be fairly trivial matters.

So the councillors decided that they would use Justices of the Peace or lawyers prepared to work for free or at low cost when disputes arose. The point of my post is to wonder why they did not consider using the many highly skilled mediators who practice in Wellington and Lower Hutt. I am quite confident mediators would charge much less than lawyers, but more importantly, they have the skills to resolve the disputes rather than give legal opinions about the rights and wrongs. The suggestion that Justices of the Peace be used shows a basic misunderstanding of the role of a Justice of the Peace, echoed by the National Federation of Justices, who commented among others, that it would be fraught with difficulties.

There are two things we can take home from this story. Unfortunately the first is that there is still not enough knowledge in the community of the role of mediators. Any mediator would have seen this problem and immediately thought they could assist in resolving these disputes. The second is that no one contacted the two professional bodies who qualify mediators, AMINZ and the Resolution Institute, or Fairway Resolution Limited who also provide mediation services for community matters. I don't know if the Council will stumble across my blog, but I would be happy to point them to many of my mediator colleagues who could assist (as could I) in facilitating these issues and even training them to better techniques for dispute resolution on the council.

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