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Mediation, not litigation, in water fight

POSTED: September 23, 2012 8:00 a.m.
 

After months of sabre rattling, name calling and finger pointing in discussions over water rates, there is some cause for cautious optimism with the announcement last week that both city and county officials have agreed to participate in a formal mediation process that hopefully will move the contentious negotiations toward a conclusion that doesn’t involve a courtroom.

Mediation sounds a lot better than litigation, which is where the contract dispute seemed headed not long ago.

We can only hope that elected officials in both governments can find a common ground through the mediation process that will put to rest what had become a battle of will and words.

While it is easy to take potshots at those responsible for decision making on both sides, in truth the matter is a complex one that defies simplistic solutions.

The ultimate contract agreement, assuming there is one, will have an impact on both governments for many years to come, as well as having an impact on all residents of Forsyth County.

That said, this is the kind of issue that competent, responsible elected and appointed government leaders should be able to resolve at the bargaining table rather than through litigation, which some county officials have said might be an option.

If the city and county have to square off in court, the taxpayers end up footing the bill for both sides. That course of action has to be a last resort.

We can only hope that as they enter the mediation process, those involved will forget notions such as whether one side “wins” or “loses;” forget potential personal political ramifications; and forget about trying to prove that one elected body is somehow stronger than the other.

What we hope they will remember is that whatever is good for Cumming is good for Forsyth County, and whatever is good for Forsyth County is good for Cumming. With that in mind, they can concentrate on doing the right thing rather than the popular thing.

Giving the long-term implications of a potential agreement, it is important that old animosities be forgotten. And it is also important for both sides to recognize that it may be necessary to compromise a little to reach an acceptable common ground.

The day before the mediation process on the water agreement, the two bodies also will be participating in mediation over the division of local sales tax dollars, another divisive issue that always seems to generate animosity and bitter feelings between the two entities.

If both mediation processes are successful, the city and county might want to consider keeping a professional mediator on permanent retainer.

 

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