From The Delaware Gazette:
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Some commissioners agree: Dispute resolution is needed
Delaware County commissioners Todd Hanks and Tommy Thompson feel that a visit from a state conflict resolution agency will work through some of the conflicts that they feel has divided the board. Commissioner Ken O’Brien disagrees.
In a split 2-1 decision, county commissioners have decided to set up a meeting with a mediator from Ohio Commission of Dispute Resolution, a state-funded agency that provides conflict resolution services to elected officials.
Before casting his “no” vote, O’Brien said earlier this week the program was unnecessary. The voluntary program would be free to the county, but O’Brien said the state-funded program was still financed by tax dollars.
“I don’t see conflict,” he said. “I don’t see consensus, but that’s not conflict.”
If there is indeed an ongoing conflict among members of the board, it largely centers around O’Brien’s concerns about a consulting contract for a $3.13 million waste-to-energy facility county commissioners quickly passed, and then later rescinded. The project, which drew heated criticism from O’Brien and members of the public, has since been abandoned.
Public debate among the commissioners has been civil lately, although it grows heated any time issues relate to the consulting contract. Commission president Thompson said a commissioner from a nearby county who had heard about the fallout surrounding the contract approached him recently and recommended the state program.
“They read the papers like anyone else does,” he said. Under the program, a representative of the state agency would meet with the individual commissioners and try to identify issues.
Commissioners have not been arguing in closed-door executive sessions, Thomson said. He just wanted to feel like the commissioners were “on the same team,” even if they disagreed on issues.
“It’s obvious that there are still some question and doubts, and we need to get through that,” Thompson said.
O’Brien has made a records request for e-mails and other written communications between all county commissioners and the county prosecutor’s office, which officials have said entails about 4,000 different documents. In the past, Hanks has referred to O’Brien’s request as a “witch-hunt,” among other unfavorable terms.
O’Brien suspects he was kept out of the loop as the project moved forward, and said earlier this week at the public meeting where the vote was held that he was still waiting for his request to be fulfilled.
This prompted Hanks to defend the project’s merits and say it was to be funded by a federal grant, which O’Brien said was “revisionist history” and unfounded. The two soon began speaking over each other.
The dispute resolution program is co-sponsored by the County Commissioners Association of Ohio.
John Leutz, a senior policy analyst with the CCAO, said the mediation program could help resolve conflicts among elected officials.
“We certainly participate with them and support the activities that they’re engaged with … and in some instances, using their services makes sense,” Leutz said.
A meeting with the dispute agency will be set up over the coming weeks. The results of the mediation meetings are secret under an Ohio law pertaining to confidential testimony in a court case.