Group Pulls Out of Union Square Affordable Housing Mediation Process
Union Square Rising, a group that opposes an affordable housing proposal in Union Square, says there's a conflict of interest with a firm hired by the city to serve as mediators.
Union Square Rising, a group that opposes an affordable housing development proposed in Union Square, has decided to pull out of city-sponsored mediation that was intended to soothe bitter tensions connected to the proposal.
Zac Zasloff, a leader of Union Square Rising, said in an email and in speaking with Somerville Patch the group's decision to pull out stems from a perceived conflict of interest with the firm hired to conduct the mediation, Consensus Building Institute, or CBI, out of Cambridge.
The perceived conflict of interest arises from information, first published in the Somerville Journal, that one of CBI's managing directors, David Fairman, worked in 1989 for the Somerville Community Corporation, the non-profit group planning to build the 40-unit affordable housing development at the former Boys & Girls Clubs site on Washington Street.
That former connection would mean the mediation process would be "clouded with doubt," Zasloff said.
He said Union Square Rising is still eager to go through a mediation process but wants the city to pick another firm that doesn't have a connection to one of the parties involved.
Thomas Champion, a spokesperson for the city, said the city just learned of Union Square Rising's decision Monday and will make a determination quickly about whether the mediation will move forward.
"There's a whole group of stakeholders here," Champion said, noting the mediation was not intended to bridge the gap solely between the Somerville Community Corporation and Union Square Rising. The city could move forward with the mediation process without participation from Union Square Rising.
Champion said, "We do not see that there's even the appearance of a conflict of interest."
Fairman, Champion said, would not be involved in the mediation process (he heads the organization's international development practice). Champion also said CBI has an impeccable professional reputation. "CBI is a truly world class mediation service," he said.
Zasloff said Union Square Rising would willingly participate in a mediation process run by a different firm—he mentioned the Massachusetts Office of Public Collaboration as a possibility.
Asked if Union Square Rising was looking for an excuse to opt out of the mediation, Zasloff said, "If we were looking for an excuse … we would say we don't want mediation."