This article originally appeared on Branford Patch.
Today, we reported that a Milford man admitted to slashing the tires of 15 of his neighbors’ cars as retaliation after they called the police on him. Via Twitter, Branford resident Joe Brummer responded “Sounds like a great case for mediation.”
Brummer is the Associate Executive Director of Hamden-based Community Mediation Inc., and one of the key mediators recently charged with looking at neighborly disputes in Branford, much like the one mentioned above. So far, though, Brummer has not had to deal with angry residents slashing each other’s tires, he said.
Right off the bat, Brummer notes that professional mediators like himself will never discuss details of cases with the public. The way mediation works, is confidentially, he said. However, he is happy to generalize mediation, especially as Branford embarks down a path of using the service to avoid possible cases of litigation, police intervention and the formation of such government bodies like a fair rent commission.
At the Sept. 12 Representative Town Meeting, Branford’s members voted to re-refer the request from the residents of Highland Bluff trailer park on North Ivy Street to have a fair rent commission established. As reported in the New Haven Register, the RTM Rules & Ordinances Committee voted to send such rent issues to mediation, specifically to Brummer’s group instead of establishing a fair rent commission. The final verdict on establishing a commission has not been finalized according to the RTM’s vote to re-refer.
So what is mediation and why use it over a fair rent commission? To learn more about a fair rent commission, visit this fact sheet by Connecticut Network for Legal Aid.
“You can go to a fair rent commission and get X, X, and X looked at,” explained Brummer, “but that doesn’t repair relationships. That’s the problem with litigation.”
Already he has begun dialogues with the Highland Bluff’s property management group Newbury Management and with residents of the trailer park including Rosalie Marenna who has been fighting for lower lot fees and better maintenance of the park since 2009. Patch first interviewed Marenna in February when she brought forth a laundry list of complaints about her park.
Brummer can’t speak directly about the case but said he’s got his work cut out for him. He’s confident though that this case will follow suit with others and become one of the 80 percent of mediated cases that has successful resolutions.
“The thing about mediation,” said Brummer, “is it’s real people with real problems that really move them and could lead to something bigger. A fair rent commission may rectify that [problems] but every little thing that comes up may be another notch in the belt. Another issue.”
Community Inc., has been providing mediation services to Branford since last year and has taken on many cases referred by the Branford Police thanks to a $2,000 grant from Branford Community Foundation – most cases have dealt with neighborhood issues. Though still in repair mode, Community Mediation, Inc., is on their way to rectifying some long-standing issues for one hot beach community in town.
Brenda Cavanaugh, Executive Director of Community Mediation, Inc. recently wrote about the work being done in Branford through the foundation’s grant, specifically in this neighborhood in a press release: “The conflict involved beach rights and had devolved into threats, name-calling, installation of cameras, property destruction and repeated calls to town hall staff and the police. Happily, the majority of residents agreed to participate in mediation sessions at the police station… At the end of the first two-hour session, Detective Travisano approached me and stated, “I cannot believe how much progress you made in two hours. I thought this was going to be a waste of everyone’s time.”
Six months later, the residents had crafted an agreement about several issues. They all agreed that the process had been painful and laborious at times and that they had benefited greatly from participating. Many residents stated that they now feel like their home is their sanctuary again, rather than an uncomfortable place to return to each day."
The story goes on to say that Branford Police Chief Kevin Halloran reported that the department devoted 47 man hours in the previous 24 months on that street alone (not including the hours town hall officials spent there) “and since the date of the first mediation session in August, 2011 to the present time, there has been no need for police presence," according to Cavanaugh
Community Mediation currently operates with grant money from the Branford Community Foundation, which was given to them last year when they applied for a much larger grant to do town-wide mediation for the schools, town and police. The large grant was denied but Branford Community Foundation held up their end giving CMI $2,000 last year and again this year, another $2,000 – mostly to be applied to cases referred by the police department.
While some of the grant money could and will mostly likely be used to mediate the housing issues at Highland Bluff, Brummer said the ultimate goal is to get the town to be able to write mediation into their annual budget. New Haven currently a lots $8,000 for mediation services and training for their city’s employees and organizations.
Recently in New Haven, Brummer’s group mediated a case between New Haven Livable Cities Initiative and a condo association. The whole mediation cost the city about $1,000 in mediation fees where litigation could have cost tens of thousands, said Brummer. When it comes to dollars, “choosing mediation,” he added, “is a no-brainer.”
On the horizon, Brummer said he foresees housing issues to continue to be a big part of their business; right now they account for about 25 percent of all cases. Often, Brummer said he is mediating payment arrangements between tenants and landlords as well as security deposit discrepancies.
“Some people believe their landlords are slum lords and some like their landlords and just want a sink fixed,” said Brummer. ‘You can take your landlord to court but in the end you’re just looking to get stuff done.”
While there are no magic bullets with mediation, Brummer said it almost always increases a persons’ communication skills if nothing else. “It increases people’s conflict resolution and communication skills and I don’t know a single court in the world that can do that.”
If you’re interested in becoming a mediator, sign-up for Community Mediation’s Fall 40-Hour Basic Mediation Training starting Oct. 11.