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Center helps mediate disputes between neighbors, in famlies

March 22, 2004|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

If you are tired of dealing with a problem with a neighbor and do not want to contact the police, a free alternative is available in Washington County.

The Washington County Community Mediation Center in Keedysville will try to resolve problems and conflicts at no cost to either party, Carl G. French III, the center's executive director, said Sunday.

Most of the calls the center works on involve disputes between neighbors about noise, trash, trees and related matters, said French, the only employee of the nonprofit group funded by the state judiciary.

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The center also deals with disputes between couples, between parents and their children, and other disagreements, he said.

French, a Keedysville resident, and Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith said they hope more people will call the center for help.

While the 2-year-old center is relatively new to the region, Smith said that as a police officer working in Baltimore, he saw how successful mediation centers worked at solving disputes without the help of law enforcement.

"I have high hopes for what he (French) can do," Smith said. "I think it's something we will use fairly regularly."

Some Hagerstown police officers give cards about the center to people in neighborhood disputes and they then call the center, French and Smith said.

"It gets the police out of situations that do not need police involvement," Smith said. "It gets neighbors to solve their own problems."

When a person calls the center about a problem, such as with a neighbor's pet, French calls the neighbor to see if both parties are interested in meeting with mediators to resolve the dispute, French said.

The mediators ask both sides to take part in "reflective listening," in which they listen to the other person's comments, French said. This is particularly helpful because it helps them realize they may have different value systems, he said.

The mediator does not propose a resolution - that is left for the disputing parties to do, he said. Since the solution is found by the two parties, it usually is successful.

Eighty-five percent of the disputes the center deals with are resolved to the satisfaction of both parties, French said.

The center is not well-known, which may be why it does not get many calls, French said.

In the last six months, the center has received about 25 calls asking for help. About 10 resulted in matters that are mediated, he said.

Baltimore's center probably gets 25 calls a day, he said.

There are 16 mediation centers in Maryland, French said. That is an increase from seven centers when the one in Washington County began, he said.

For more information about the organization, go to www.wccmc.org on the Web.

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