MEDIATION OF ASBESTOS LEGISLATION

A major development, concerning the management of negotiations to create a trust fund to compensate people made sick by asbestos exposre, brings mediation to the national legislative process. Unable to agree on the terms for creating the trust fund, U.S. Senate leaders have agreed to enter mediation. A federal judge, Judge Edward Becker of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia, is mediating.

In agreeing to participate in the mediation, Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), the Minority Leader, wrote the following to Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), the Majority Leader: "An inclusive approach holds the best promise for moving toward a consensus solution of this very contentious and consequential issue."

The legislation is needed, advocates for victims and insurers agree, as a wave of lawsuits clog the country's courthouses. Roughly 730,000 asbestos claims have been filed, including over 110,000 last year, according to a study by the Rand Institute for Civil Justice (reported in The Star Ledger, 4/23/04, pg.6). The cost of the litigation is approximately $70 billion and almost 70 companies have filed for bankruptcy protection under the weight of the lawsuits. The legislation, under consideration, aimed to create a trust fund financed by businesses and insurance companies. Officials from both political parties agree that something needs to be done to improve the system but they disagree on what to provide, in structure and financial resources.

The clear and pressing need for a resolution motivates the parties, and, certainly, the agreement to engage in mediation to reach a legislative compromise is a new and intriguing turn in the dispute resolution field.


LAND USE DECISION-MAKING AND PUBLIC PARTICIPATION

There is a new day in Morningside Heights since Lee Bollinger took over the presidency of Columbia University. Pressed by the need to expand but aware of the spectacle of 1968 when his predecssor, seeking to expand into Harlem and build a gymnasium in Morningside Park touched off a campus rebellion and opposition among local residents, Bollinger decided to establish a 40-memberr community advisory council as it prepared to embark on its plan to creatae a new campus on 18 acres bound by 125th Street, Broadway, 12th Avenue and 133rd Street. It sponsored town hall meetings to solicit comments and worked with Comunity Board 9 whose district includes West Harlem. Columbia is seeking to be "part of building the community" according to Bollinger (New York Times: 4/21/04, B8), and has incorporated a number of design principles that came from the community discussion,s notably retaining current streets and building designs that invite pedeestraisn to move west toward the river, enlivening 125th Street as a gateway to the Hudson River waterfront, aligning with city and state efforts to improve the piers for recreation and commuting purposes. At the same time, Bollinger is working with the community to create job traing programs and to provide both construction and technical job opportunities. He is also looking to work with the community to expand ways in which Columbia can provide space for community arts, theater and dance as it expands.

Inclusive, participative processes that seeks to broaden and deepen the links between institutions, developers and communities reflect another significant dimension of the field of negotiation and conflict resolution, that having to do with improving processes for decision-making, involving those who are part of and likely to be affected by decisions, and attempting to produce outcomes that are satisfactory, even optimal, and that sustain and build relationships that last.