How Best to Run a Town? Citizens Reconcile Opposing Philosophies
by Krag Unsoeld
This Article Summary written by: Tanya Glaser, Conflict Research Consortium
Citation: Unsoeld, Krag. "How Best to Run a Town? Citizens Reconcile Opposing Philosophies." Consensus. Published by the Public Disputes Network. November 1988. No.1. P. 4.
Wesborough, Massachusetts was a fast growing town. This growth created a concern among its citizens about the effectiveness of the town government. This developed over the decision of the Board of Selectmen not to re-appoint the Town Coordinator, who was respected by the residents. A group, which assumed the name Citizens for Accountability, believed that Don Cowles, recently elected selectman, had been responsible for the Board's decision and wanted to recall him. A group against the recall became known as Pro-Cowles Group. It argued that since someone was elected by the voters he had the right to serve his three-year term. Both sides agreed that the problems were mounting for some time and that this case brought them to light. The major issue was the system of appointing, which the Citizens for Accountability believed needed improvement.
State Senator John Houston decided to intervene and suggested that the parties try mediation. The goal of the mediators was to establish a new forum of communication for the parties since existing channels (newspapers and meetings) only exacerbated the situation. During the first session, parties criticized each other without any constructive suggestions for improvement. To make mediation more effective, parties were asked to bring specific proposals to the second meeting. While discussing the proposals, both sides realized how much they had in common. They both wanted "more accountability in the process of their town's government." By the end of the mediation, parties established guidelines for the work of the Board of Selectmen and "agreed to work for approval of a Town Charter Review," that would provide an opportunity to consider new appointment options (p. 4). Parties worked together on collecting signatures to get the measure on the ballot.