Back in 1981, two members of the Harvard Negotiation Project, Roger Fisher and William Ury, published a small book called “Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In.” The idea was to teach strategies for reaching mutually acceptable agreements, not just in political circumstances but in every area of life.
When I ran for mayor last fall, I made as part of my campaign, a pledge to work with the city council to find common ground for serving the people of Homer. Instead of using my position to break tie votes in a divided, us-and-them community, I hoped to encourage consensus building.
The six members of Homer’s city council are all dedicated public servants who give their time and talents freely to our community and have its best interests in mind. They simply don’t always agree on the best actions to take.
The time we currently live in, I think no one would disagree, is one of considerable conflict and divisiveness on both the state and federal levels. It is more important than ever to respect differing points of view, to demonize no one and to work together to achieve not just a functioning society but a just and responsible one. I’m proud that our city has a good record of working well and that our citizens show their care for one another on a daily basis.
Although our council continues to split some votes, I’m encouraged to see occasions of working together to “get to yes.” Talking together to find out what a successful policy or decision would look like for the other “side” or what both “sides” would need to forge a consensus is key, and I hope to see more of that — within the constraints of the open meetings law, of course. A slight majority (4-3 if the mayor were to vote) is not the best course of decision-making, if some negotiation or accommodation can result in a win-win for all.
Some say that my declining to vote is the same as a “no” vote. Not at all — the status quo is maintained — there is no change. A failure to pass means that the six elected policy-makers were unable to craft a new law that would find general support in our community. While voting by council members is required by state law, the mayor is given the option of participation.
Some key strategies from Getting to Yes include separating the people from the problem, focusing on interests instead of positions, establishing precise goals at the start, considering multiple possibilities and working together to create options that will satisfy both (or all, or a clear majority) of those involved. We’re all friends here, and our goal is agreement and serving the greatest good for the public we serve.
Ken Castner is the Mayor of Homer.