Cape Elizabeth councilor proposes mediation for minor disputes

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CAPE ELIZABETH — Councilors are considering creating a citizen mediation program to help residents resolve neighborhood issues without going to the Town Council.

Councilor Caitlin Jordan said she thought of the idea for a mediation program after seeing many residents come to the council to settle parochial disagreements. Jordan said those complaints take up time and can lead to unnecessary ordinance revisions.

“(The Town Council) has created a lot of new ordinances over the past couple of years that I think started as a neighbor-to-neighbor issue and became a town issue when maybe it didn’t need to be,” she said.

Jordan cited a recent amendment to the town’s miscellaneous offenses ordinance as an example. Joe Gajda of 15 Farm Hill Road went to the council last September to complain that his neighbor, Pat Kennedy of 17 Farm Hill Road, wouldn’t get rid of a crowing rooster. After a couple months of debate and discussion, councilors voted to ban roosters on lots under 40,000 square feet.

Jordan, who voted against the ordinance change, said she doesn’t think it’s right to have an isolated issue affect the entire town.

“People complain because they can’t get along with their neighbor and we end up changing the law,” Jordan said. “I would much rather see people work things out than have laws change and affect everyone.”

Jordan brought the suggestion to the council in November at a goal-setting meeting. Plans for the mediation program are still in the early stages and Jordan said it could be several months before it is implemented.

Jordan on Feb. 25 met with Councilor Molly MacAuslan, Code Enforcement Officer Ben McDougal, and members of the Planning and Zoning boards to discuss how it could work. Over the next couple months she said they’ll be looking at other towns with mediation programs to see how they are set up.

Some questions will include whether mediation will be mandatory for all neighbor-to-neighbor disputes, and whether it will be free.

If the program is implemented, Jordan said the town will look for trained mediators, who wouldn’t necessarily have to be Cape Elizabeth residents, to volunteer to meet with neighbors who are having disputes. She said eventually the town could consider hiring someone to hold a training session for residents interested in becoming mediators.

If mediation doesn’t work, or if a problem is found to be larger than a neighborhood dispute, then it could still go to the Town Council, she said.

Once a final plan is drafted, Jordan and the others will recommend it to the council. She said could it could be fully accepted and implemented, or it could be given a trial period.

Jordan said having a mediation program in place would give councilors more time to focus on issues that affect the entire town.

“That’s the hope, that Town Council can focus on whole-town issues rather than neighbor issues,” she said.

The next meeting to discuss the mediation program will be on March 25.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

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I’m a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I’m from a small town in NH no one’s ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.