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 , 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 , 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."

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Rob Buchanan August 09, 2012 at 06:49 PM
Hi Warren, I was responding to Zac Zasloff's statement that David Fairman's former employment with SCC in 1989 would mean the mediation process would be "clouded with doubt." If David's work as a landlord-tenant mediator for SCC in 1989 is relevant to the conflict of interest discussion (and I think it is), then I think the rest of David's career is also relevant. When you put his work for SCC in the context of the rest of his career and clients, and the fact that he would in no way be involved in mediating the Boys and Girls Club project, I just don't that there's a strong argument to be made for a conflict of interest or even perception thereof. USR's assertion that there is a cloud of doubt just doesn't sound credible to me, so I am left wondering if there is another motivation for pulling out and/or delaying the mediation process. Rob
LSG August 11, 2012 at 01:02 PM
Exactly, Rob. There are well-established rules for determining whether a conflict exists. In this case, there is no conflict, because the person who has the alleged conflict will not be involved in the mediation or in any aspect of the decision-making process. This is just an attempt to delay the project. By the way, a copy of Union Square Rising's petition is available through a public records request from the City, if anyone wants to see which businesses are on it.
LSG August 11, 2012 at 01:11 PM
Wow, Jasmine. So many lies and racist dog whistles (welfare queens and undeserving poor, anyone?) in one place. Thank you for bringing that out into the open where it can be addressed. Anyone who wants to find out how SCC does business and finances its project can find the information pretty easily online, since it all has to be made publicly available. Check out the video of St. Polycarp's here: nice, modest place for working class tenants. No granite. No fancy appliances. http://www.somervillecdc.org/Resources/interactives.html
LSG August 11, 2012 at 01:14 PM
I don't like donating my money to pay for your inlaid sidewalks or for upgrades that are necessary to support luxury condo projects, and, yet, the community does those things because they think it will benefit the community as a whole.
LSG August 11, 2012 at 01:29 PM
How SCC finances its projects is a matter of public record. While they, like other businesses, get favorable loans and tax credits, the perception that the Union Square Rising folks are somehow paying for this project is wildly inaccurate. This is a nonprofit real estate development corporation. It makes enough to pay its bills (which include very modest salaries - again a matter of public record), maintain existing projects, and finance new ones. http://www.somervillecdc.org/Final%202010%20Annual%20Report.pdf


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