Audience: Executive Leadership
Turf wars, policy disagreements and other kinds of conflict are common in our movement. In some communities, the situation escalates into open hostility. In others, groups find ways to overcome their differences (or at least put them aside) for the sake of the animals. In Gainesville, Florida, a coalition of animal welfare organizations turned to mediation to ease the tensions. The successful outcome is described in their Mediation Summary Report. Our deepest thanks for allowing us to eavesdrop.
Maddie's® Pet Rescue Project in Alachua County - Mediation Summary Report
In August 2003, the Alachua County Humane Society, Lead Agency for Maddie's® Pet Rescue Project in Alachua County, Florida, requested consultation and mediation services.
On August 22, 2003, an initial meeting was held with the director of the Alachua County Humane Society and mediation consultants, Gwen Love and Chris Stokes. The extent and type of services needed were discussed and background documents were provided.
The mediation consultants were invited to attend the next scheduled meeting of Maddie's® Pet Rescue Project partners at the Alachua County Animal Shelter on August 28, 2003.
Both mediators attended. The mediators also participated in a scheduled conference call with Maddie's Fund president, Rich Avanzino, who outlined the foundation's desire to have the issues with the Maddie's partners resolved or risk the possibility of losing future funding.
During the meeting, the Maddie's® partners were introduced and their problems with the operation and administration of the Project were discussed. The major disputants were identified as the Lead Agency and the Alachua County Animal Shelter administrators. There were also issues between the Lead Agency and the Joint Governance Committee regarding the administration of the Maddie's® Project staff and operations.
The barriers contributing to the dispute between the Lead Agency and the Maddie's® partners were identified and are listed below:
- Major dispute between the director of the Lead Agency and the Alachua County Shelter Director.
- Lack of productive communications between the Lead Agency and Maddie's® Pet Rescue Project partners.
- Undefined roles between Maddie's® Pet Rescue Project partners and No More Homeless Pets coalition members.
- Dissatisfaction of Maddie's® Pet Rescue Project partners with the distribution of grant funds and the designation of the Alachua County Humane Society as Lead Agency.
- Lack of mutual respect between the Lead Agency, Alachua County Animal Shelter, and Maddie's partners.
- A contentious letter sent to the County Manager and the media regarding the Alachua County Animal Shelter.
Action Steps for Rebuilding the Coalition
The goals established by the consultants were: 1) resolve the conflict between the major disputants, the Alachua County Shelter and the Lead Agency and 2) reorganize Maddie's® Pet Rescue partners and strengthen their relationships.
During the coalition-building phase, the Maddie's® partners were requested to review the vision and mission statements of the Maddie's® Project and assess the effectiveness of the existing organizational structure and Joint Governance Committee. This process allowed each participant to express their views and to interact with each other in a positive fashion. One major outcome was a better understanding of the roles of the various agencies. The role and responsibility of the Lead Agency was discussed in detail. It was concluded that the Maddie's® Pet Rescue partners should only consist of the agencies actually written into the grant.
The partners agreed to do the following:
- Develop a new organizational chart.
- Dissolve the Joint Governance Committee.
- Establish a Maddie's® Pet Rescue Advisory Committee.
- Develop a Memorandum of Understanding.
- Develop an organizational structure and assign task and authority.
This was done in order for each participating agency to perceive themselves as an important part of the whole, contributing to its success.
Outcomes of the Coalition Rebuilding Efforts
The desired outcomes of the coalition building efforts were successful. The Lead Agency worked on a revised organizational chart, which reflected the Maddie's® Grant Agency Partnerships. A new Memorandum of Understanding was drawn up which outlined the contributions of each participating agency. A Maddie's® Pet Rescue Advisory Committee was formed with a No More Homeless Pet coalition representative sitting on the committee. The first meeting of the Advisory Committee was held on November 4, 2003. The meeting was held with a renewed spirit of cooperation by all of the committee members attending the meeting.
The first order of business was to establish ground rules for the mediation process and to ensure all parties concerned that the process would be fair and the mediators neutral.
The second order of business was to arrange a series of meetings with the directors of the Lead Agency and the Alachua County Animal Shelter.
Mediators met with both directors twice at the Alachua County Animal Shelter and twice individually. During our first session the following issues were determined:
- Mutual distrust
- Lack of professional respect
- Hurt feelings (based on the personal attacks)
- Poor communication (based solely upon the above items)
In order to resolve the above issues, the following steps were taken, and both parties agreed to the following rules:
- Attack the problem not each other (we had to reference this rule several times).
- Focus on the issues - one issue at a time.
- What do they want - why do they want it?
- When we reach a resolution is it:
One of the issues consistently addressed was the designation of the Lead Agency. Although it had been stated several times that the Humane Society was designated the Lead Agency by Maddie's Fund®, this was still a major sticking point with the Shelter. After much discussion this issue was laid to rest.
The second issue pertained to what was described as a "List of Particulars" (grievances) compiled by the County Animal Shelter director. After the directors went through the list item by item, it was established that the majority of the issues were unfounded, unrelated, unnecessary, and untrue. The remaining issues could have been resolved with a single phone call or face-to-face meeting between the two directors.
The third issue involved the level of commitment and the level of leadership participation. Both parties agreed that the Joint Governance Committee was not acceptable in its present form and was in need of a major overhaul.
Conclusions of Mediation Actions
Once the two parties were able to remove their emotions from the problems they were not far from a reasonable resolution. Both parties are committed to the Maddie's Fund grant as well as saving the pets in our community. They both are passionate and believe in their agencies and their philosophies. A clear line of communications between the leaders and other project partners would create a model Maddie's® Project. All parties concerned are now willing to put aside their issues and work together.