Article by Robert Walch, Salinas Californian, March 23, 2015 – Isabel Bjork, the Executive Director of the Mandell Gisnet Center for Conflict Management, firmly believes that mediation and similar forms of conflict resolution would not only benefit the community but also promote positive outcomes that would decrease the overload facing the judicial system today.
A program of the Monterey College of Law, the MCG is a non-profit created in 2007 by a bequest from Maurice Mandell and Rebekah Gisnet. A number of years ago the Carmel couple had been in a protracted and unpleasant dispute with a neighbor and this negative experience was something they believed could have been avoided or at least mitigated if some type of mediation program could have been utilized.
After giving it some thought, the couple created a trust that would provide training in mediation and conflict resolution as well encourage other types of positive conflict resolution.
Among MCG’s programs, the NEIGHBOR Project offers mediation as a way to solve problems with the help of trained, neutral mediators who make sure everyone is heard and helps parties come up with mutually satisfying solutions.
This offers an alternative to the costs of courts, police involvement and stresses in the on going conflict. The use of the NEIGHBOR Project ranges from pet, property line, noise and parking problems, landlord/tenant disputes, and vandalism to roommate problems to situations involving threats and harassment.
The project is sponsored by a collaboration of community agencies that include the Monterey County Superior Court, the County and City of Monterey, the city of Salinas, the Monterey County Bar Association, Restorative Justice Commission and other legal organizations.
“We also have a veterans’ mediation program where essentially we focus on any of the conflicts veterans may encounter,” Bjork said.
Besides providing mediation services, another very important aspect of the MCG’s mission is to offer mediation training services. This takes the form of public workshops designed to offer the skills and confidence to improve communication and resolve problems in the home, workplace and community. Besides the single day workshops, there are also lengthier mediation sessions that involved 35 hours of training that stretch out over ten weeks.
By training community members Bjork hopes to “export” the mediation skills into the community so that these trained individuals can assist in resolving workplace or community conflicts.
Since the center has a very small staff, the trained volunteers are the essential component in achieving the goals of the organization. “We train law students and lawyers as well individuals who come from other walks of life. The emphasis is on showing that there are non-litigation ways of resolving conflicts,” Bjork explained.
The ten week training program began on February 12 followed by another in late May and then a third one in the fall. The courses are held at the Monterey College of Law campus and there is an enrollment fee.
A one-day workshop took place on Jan. 23; “Negotiation and Mediation: Skills Symposium & Training” was led by California Senator Bill Monning. The panel of speakers also included Fred Keeley, Sue McCloud, Dave Stoldt, Mary Claypool and Cesar Lara.
The training will provide valuable negotiation and mediation tools for effective public policy development and all forms of advocacy, whether it be in government, business or with a non-profit.
To register for this event or other training sessions, phone 831-582-5234 or go online to mandellgisnetcenter.org. California State Bar attendees quality for six hours of MCLE credit.
Isabel Bjork worked in Europe assisting former Eastern Block countries in reforming their legal/court practices to bring them in line with the European Common Market standards. “So much of what I was doing overseas was negotiating agreements and then figuring out how to make them work,” she explained. This experience dovetailed nicely with her interest in mediation and conflict resolution.
A Santa Cruz resident, Bjork was teaching international law at the Monterey College of Law when the position at MGC opened up last year. “I knew when I came back to the U.S. I wanted to do something in the area of mediation/negotiation so this was a nice fit,” she said.
Bjork also was attracted to the position because the Mandell Gisnet Center is breaking new ground in Monterey County. “There is an overload in the court system and if we can help resolve some of the cases that come before the court, that will provide more time for the cases that really need a judgment,” she explained.