City will not have a 'louder voice' at meeting by David Lias The Vermillion City Council has scheduled its first public forum to gain input on the city hall issue for 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 12, at the William J. Radigan Fire Hall/EMS Center.
This meeting will be unlike any the city council has held in its attempt to strike a dialogue with Vermillion citizens.
Aldermen won't be conducting the forum. That responsibility will rest with Mark Cullen and Dr. Richard Braunstein of the Vermillion Conflict Resolution Center (VCRC).
"They are a neutral third party organization and they will be receiving the comments and offering a report back to the city council the following week," City Manager Jim Patrick said at Monday's city council meeting.
Since there likely will be a quorum of city council members present at Monday's event, it will begin much like any other city council meeting.
After roll call, Mayor Roger Kozak will introduce the VCRC personnel.
VCRC will conduct meeting
"They will then conduct the meeting by taking public input on citizens' desires and wishes concerning city hall, and once those comments are received and everyone has an opportunity to speak, the meeting will be adjourned," Patrick said.
Members of the city council, will, in effect, have the same status as the public at this meeting.
"The city council members will be invited to attend but will participate as part of the audience," Patrick told the aldermen Monday. "As anyone in the audience will have, if you decide or if you desire to make a comment, of course your comments will be welcome."
The meeting will not be televised or recorded.
The VCRC, a non-profit organization, was started last year, Braunstein said, for the purpose of bringing mediation services to the community, particularly in the area of landlord/tenant disputes.
"We also, as a mission of the organization, have an interest in providing facilitation resources in the areas of public policy or in business," he said.
A third goal of the VCRC is to educate citizens about its available resources to resolve conflict, such as mediation, arbitration, facilitation, and consensus-building.
"It (the VCRC) started from my work in mediation," Braunstein said. "I'm the president of the organization and the executive director is Mark Cullen."
Braunstein and Cullen, both faculty members in the political science department at USD, will be co-facilitators of Monday's forum.
Braunstein said landlord/tenant conflicts and other issues have made it clear to the city that it needs to have a neutral, third party facilitate over contentious issues.
"We are that organization," Braunstein said. "We are a neutral, third party, and we have an interest in developing a reputation as a reliable, neutral conflict resolver."
Goal: Identify concerns
The goal of Monday's meetings won't be to solve problems, but rather to identify concerns over the procedures and substance of plans to either renovate the existing city hall, construct a new building or acquire the Community First bank building.
"It will make the city a stakeholder among many," Braunstein said. "The only way that we agree to do something like this is if we are brought in as a pure neutral. What that means is the city would be one of many participants in the discussion. The city will not have a louder voice than any member of the community.
"That's what our values are in terms of doing facilitations like this," he said, "to try to give voice and neutrality to all participants."
Braunstein said the meeting will be presented in a manner that respects the equality of all participants.
"We are going to try to catalogue, to the best of our ability, people's concerns over the way public policy in the city hall issue has been discussed and how decisions have been made," he said. "We're also going to ask the participants of the meeting to do a strengths and weaknesses assessment of a move or a renovation."
The meeting won't dwell on any one specific option concerning city hall.
"We're talking about options," Braunstein said. "This doesn't mean the bank purchase versus staying. This isn't a discussion of the ballot issue per se. This is a question of whether or not the citizens of the community feel there are more strengths in moving or staying or more weaknesses in moving or staying."
The VCRC will provide the city council with a report Jan. 19 that does not analyze what Monday's meeting produces.
"It will simply describe what the meeting produces," Braunstein. "We're not going to put any spin on what is said at the meeting. We are going to try, at the best of our ability, to produce a clear sense of what the community thinks about this issue.
"We're simply going to facilitate the meeting and report on its discussion," he said.