Lake Elmo council seeks help of conflict resolution specialist

While Lake Elmo City Council members have frequently said they are committed to returning civility to City Hall, heated disputes and outbursts among the elected officials still disrupt council meetings on a fairly consistent basis.

Now the city is looking to enlist the help of a conflict resolution specialist in an effort to calm things down a bit by enhancing dialogue between council members.

The city council held a council-driven workshop a couple months back where members discussed, among other things, opportunities to improve communications and decorum during meetings.

“It’s fair to say that since that time the council has been involved in disputes that have been enthusiastic to put it mildly,” city attorney David Snyder said at the July 21 council meeting.

“But nevertheless, each council member has addressed their continuing interest in enhancing civility in their discussions, their discourse, and also enhancing and insisting on independence in their voting and consideration and deliberation on issues affecting the city,” Snyder said.

Snyder said he had spoken with Mariah Levison, senior program manager at the Minnesota Office for Collaboration and Dispute Resolution, and asked the council members if they were interested in working with her.

Levison has worked with other city governments -- including nearby North St. Paul - to help resolve conflicts, improve communication and improve civility.

Snyder said her services to Lake Elmo would be provided at no cost to the city.

“I think that her services could be of value to you if you consulted with her on an as-needed basis,” he said.

Near the conclusion of last week’s meeting, the city council directed staff to collect more information about the services the Minnesota Office for Collaboration and Dispute Resolution offers and expressed a desire to work with Levison in the near future.

“I think it would be of great value. It is a free service; I think we should use it,” council member Jill Lundgren said.

While Snyder admitted disputes among Lake Elmo council members remain a problem, he has seen improvements in that area recently.

“Despite what conclusions may be drawn about recent council meetings, and so forth, I think you have made significant strides in your efforts to enhance the dialogue and also enhance the demand that there be independence in your thought and voting and consideration of all these things,” Snyder told the council members.

Joshua Nielsen can be reached at jnielsen@lillienews.com or 651-748-7822.

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