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keep it out of the ditches Uptown County road,

conflicts. Another truth is your ability to manage these situations as a public official can provide your community with great lead- ership when your constituents need it most, especially during a heated conflict in your county. Managing public disputes was one of our breakout topics at our 47th annual Association of Arkansas Counties conference, and I was honored to present this topic to a diverse audience of county officials and staffers. I think conflicts are a lot like change. Tey are fairly constant in our careers as public servants and are almost always dynamic. Unmanaged conflicts can derail the best of projects. Unfortu- nately, winning the fight oftentimes becomes more important than finding a solution. Step into hypothetical Uptown County where the county plans to widen a road. Some citizens inquire about the plan and the stretch of road to be widened. “How wide will it

H that

be,” they ask. “What kind of road

surface and curbing?” “Will


past my driveway?” Officials haven’t quite

finalized their plans and seem bothered by the requests. Tese constit- uents are worried even more after not receiving a warm reception from the county. Our problem begins. Positions and sides emerge. Without any discussion of the plans for the road, what could have been just a cautionary phase for the county is perceived as a reluctance to inform the com- munity. Now even residents who don’t live on or travel the road pick a side, and the conflict becomes the talk of the town. Ru- mors roll about the plans, and speculation from the community grows. In an attempt to manage, the county calls a town meeting. However, people have already become frustrated and do not want to talk or listen to the opposing view. Te meeting is more like a heated public debate. Information is not flowing between the sides and no solution is in sight. Te newspaper covered the “debate” and now is running sev- eral stories focusing on the differences between the sides. Leaders and supporters on both sides become more committed, includ- ing more financially vested. Te story grabs the attention of the TV stations in and now has grown outside Uptown County. An


almost always dynamic. Unmanaged conflicts can derail the best of projects. Unfortunately, winning the fight oftentimes becomes more important than finding a solution.

“I ”

ow do you handle disputes? If you had to rank your ability to efficiently resolve public disputes, what would it be on a scale of 1 to 10? Te truth is all of us could be better at managing

Legislative lines

think conflicts are a lot like change. Tey are fairly constant in our careers as public servants and are

“us against them” atmosphere thickens, and the conflict morphs into a right vs. wrong situation with no middle ground. Now we have a distinct divi- sion in the community being played out in the media, which is focusing on the arguments, not a solution. Te factions now enter a “must win” atti- tude and invest more resources. At this point, the project is in the ditches. Te conflict will forever be an aggregate of the community as the fight carries on. Damage to the community is long last- ing. Finally, Uptown County folds and does nothing. Te above-mentioned degrading situa- tion is fairly predictable when unmanaged. “Managing Public Dis- putes, A Guide for Government, Business, and Citizens’ Groups,” by Susan L. Caprenter and W.J.D. Kennedy refers to it as the spiral of unmanaged conflict.

Scott perkins Legislative and Communications Director

Te goal is to begin these

projects and manage them in a proper manner to avoid the spiral of conflict. Te key is communication. Another goal is to identify spirals and try to stop the downward movement be- fore the conflict intensifies. Many of us address conflict in four main ways for

several reasons. Ev-

ery conflict is different and demands a different approach. I’m not saying these are right or wrong, but they are the main four. We either avoid the topic altogether, leap into a fight, search for a quick fix or possibly fall into the Solomon Trap. Avoidance, fighting and a quick fix are self-explanatory. Te trap deserves a little explanation.

A leader takes plenty of time to have public meetings, sits

down with all stakeholders taking detailed notes of the discus- sions. Meeting after meeting is conducted focused on commu- nity feedback and expert information. Te leader melds all his or her data and formulates a plan. When the plan is released to the community it can go two

ways. First, it could be well received and celebrated. All is good. Or it could be met with frigid faces and attitudes. Sides then complain that their key issues were not addressed even though

See “CONFLICTS” on Page 33 >>> 13

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