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Councils of Governments adopt conflict resolution agreement

| Friday, April 4, 2014, 4:21 a.m.

Three regional councils of governments that have a history of working together are showing unanimous support for new principles of inter-governmental cooperation.

Member communities of Steel Valley, Turtle Creek Valley and Twin Rivers COGs changed their bylaws in recent weeks to incorporate new conflict resolution practices. The new rules guide member municipalities through a mediation process through which they can address issues with their COG.

“The modernization of our bylaws shows a serious commitment to keeping our COGs strong, effective and responsive,” Steel Valley COG executive director An Lewis said. “We know we have to work together to tackle our biggest challenges, like promoting economic development and reducing blight.”

Since the COGs began collaborating in 2011, much of their focus has been on the impact that blighted, vacant and tax-delinquent properties have on residents, businesses and communities as a whole.

The conflict resolution agreement is the second major project of what the COGs call a Tri-COG Collaborative. The partnership was formed to “strengthen the fabric of member communities” and “implement innovative policies” for a stronger future in the Mon Valley and Eastern suburbs.

The first collaboration was a blight analysis in the Mon-Yough region, published in 2012.

Members of the Tri-COG collaborative are in the process of developing plans for a COG-managed land bank to meet the needs of various member municipalities. The concept is based on the blight report, which found 20,077 vacant parcels and 7,158 blighted properties among 41 member municipalities — conditions that cost more than $19.3 million in direct costs and between $218 million and $247 million in lost property values per year.

Turtle Creek COG executive director Amanda Settelmaier said the problems that confront every community covered by the Tri-COG Collaborative are “bigger than municipal borders.” She said the solutions should be bigger, too.

“The new conflict resolution process is a crucial tool for our communities to continue to partner and grow together,” Settelmaier said.

Twin Rivers COG executive director John Palyo said the Tri-COG Collaborative turned to the Local Government Academy to develop a framework for resolving conflicts.

“Too many times good programs have been held back because of an inability to effectively resolve conflict,” he said. “The Local Government Academy recognized that sustainable inter-municipal partnerships need a formal process for resolving conflict.”

With the development of the Intergovernmental Consensus & Conflict Resolution Program, the COGs are able to work through their problems.

The COGs' new conflict resolution policies are based on the idea that the most effective way to resolve conflicts is through constructive engagement at the earliest possible opportunity.

The process is built around the unique characteristics inherent to municipal government with a clear structure for working through conflict. That way, all parties involved in the conflict can create resolutions together.

The policies have been established with an understanding that a member municipality will end a COG relationship because of an unresolved conflict only as a last resort.

Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.