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What Would *You* Have Done?

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An article last week in the Wall Street Journal offered the headline, “Political Divisions in Cortez, Colorado, Got So Bitter the Mayor Needed a Mediator.”  It went on to profile a town in which there were weekly marches on both the right and the left … “freedom rides” and “walks for justice and peace.” The mayor, having “jotted down a resignation letter and tucked it away in a leather-bound folder,” “reached out to a group of University of Denver mental health specialists focusing on violence prevention. The goal: to find a way to mediate peace between the two factions.”

Plans for “the discussion … focused on a shared vision for Cortez, not ideologies, [the mediator, Dr. Nielsen] said. If the group got through this step, they should work together on communitywide projects like refurbishing a building or a town festival.”

“People are so divided that if we’re just talking about the protesting in town, then they’re going to be pissed off even more,” Dr. Nielsen told the mayor. “What if we talk about the core common denominator for people that love Cortez?”

Dr. Nielsen suggested that someone local and trusted by both sides could facilitate the discussion.

Mr. Lavey asked his predecessor as mayor, Karen Sheek, who heads the League of Women Voters of Colorado, if her group would moderate. She declined. Mr. Lavey turned to his old pastor, David Ramsey, who leads a local nondenominational church. He said he was trying to steer his congregation clear of politics. He also declined.

The mayor thought he hit a breakthrough when a local teacher who facilitated a city council retreat expressed interest. But that fell through, too, when he discovered that the teacher had been critical of both the Justice group and Ms. Ghere over their tactics.

The competing rallies downtown continued each weekend.

Spoiler alert:

““It was a great idea, but so many things didn’t pan out,” the mayor said recently. “There’s just no coming together in the country—or Cortez.”

What would you have done, if you were that mayor?

What would you have done, if you were one of those violence prevention specialists?

Fast forward:

After weighing whether he should submit the resignation letter he had stowed away all summer, Mr. Lavey said he began distancing himself from the town’s divisions and dove back into the business of a small town mayor: hiring a public works director, promoting hot-air balloon rides and attending ribbon cuttings for new businesses. Instead of monitoring the Patriot caravans, he spent summer weekends camping in the mountains with his wife.

He finally decided to ditch the plans for the intervention, even with tensions rising over vaccinations and masks in schools. The resignation letter remains in his folder. For now, the mayor said, coexistence will have to suffice.

“I just want Cortez to go back to how we were before,” Mr. Lavey said.

                        author

Michael Moffitt

Michael Moffitt is the Dean for University of Oregon School of Law, Orlando J. and Marian H. Hollis Professor of Law, and Associate Director, ADR Center.  Before joining the Oregon law faculty in 2001, Michael Moffitt served as the clinical supervisor for the mediation program at Harvard Law School and taught negotiation at… MORE >

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