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A third way for Lansing on road fixes

Daniel Cherrin

The founders of our country told us that we should have a more perfect union. They did not say we have to agree on everything. A more perfect union is a union based on trusting those whom we elect to make decisions on difficult issues to help Michigan progress.

With the future of Proposition 1 still uncertain and a number of laws ranging from restoring the family tax credit to funding programs for at-risk students in limbo as a result, there is a third way to help our lawmakers, giving the Legislature an alternative process for resolving polarizing issues.

Oregon Solutions began with the passage of the state of Oregon’s Sustainability Act in 2001. Since then Oregon Solutions has successfully provided a system and process for problem solving. Ralph Becker, the mayor of Salt Lake City, took that same model and created Salt Lake City Solutions, an office in the city’s planning department that is dedicated to community engagement and facilitation for a variety of high profile projects.

Given today’s political climate, a similar entity should be created in Lansing: A neutral organization established by executive order, act of the legislature or through a collaborative effort of our state’s universities to resolve differences, by bringing elected officials from both parties together with other key stakeholders and find new approaches to public issues.

In Oregon and Salt Lake City, issues come to the organization’s attention after the mayor, council or governor defines a problem that needs to be solved. The mayor or governor designates an impartial convener to bring people together and develop an assessment of the proposed issue. If the issue meets the criteria for resolution, a neutral party is selected to manage and help resolve the project through facilitated meetings.

Lawmakers may argue that they were elected to resolve difficult policy issues, however, in today’s political climate politics often trumps sound public policy. While lawmakers may agree on a common vision for our state, getting there is another story.

Currently in Michigan there is no comparable organization, but there could be. There could be a group of trained neutral facilitators ready to:

■ Assess a given situation and bring the right people to the table to discuss them.

■ Design and facilitate meetings to make sure all viewpoints are considered.

■ Help groups sort through information to support sound decisions.

Creating such an organization can take the burden off our elected officials to drive politically charged issues to a neutral organization that can create the process to resolve them and ultimately vote on them.

We have all seen how public policy disputes have the potential of polarizing communities with the affect of delaying important decisions on vital issues of public policy often resulting in diluted policies or no action at all. Policymakers tend to avoid controversial issues or postpone crucial decisions hoping to avoid conflict.

Conflict among lawmakers and regulators is inevitable. However, carefully structured dialogue, facilitated by skilled neutrals could offer a more effective and durable method to resolve conflicts and build consensus around controversial and often complex public policy issues.

Facilitation can help find resolution through controversy and clarity amidst chaos to resolve some of the most difficult issues facing our state. It also has the benefit of helping lawmakers develop more trusting relationships with their adversaries and provides them the tools to help resolve future conflicts on their own.

It is time to shift how government decisions are made and for our elected leaders to find a new way to decide tough issues while seeking consensus instead of controversy.

It is time our leaders lead us forward, not back. Great leadership requires finding common ground among diverse interests. It is time for the people we elected to emerge from the wells of the Legislature as leaders and find the third way to resolving tough issues so that we can all advance — together.

Daniel Cherrin is an attorney and public relations professional with North Coast Strategies and the former communications director and press secretary for the city of Detroit under Mayor Kenneth Cockrel Jr.