By Stephanie Lipcius Palko
The members of the new volunteer committee who are looking at issues and regulations for high-intensity chicken growing operations in the county are not alone as they delve into their discussions.
Three members of Community Mediation Upper Shore are also attending the meetings to encourage deliberations and record comments.
Lisa Cameron is the main facilitator. During the committee’s first meeting this week, Cameron led the introductions, asked committee members to prioritize their interests in this specific topic and helped the group begin to tackle the variety of issues and possible regulations to govern future Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs).
Community Mediation trains community members in the art of promoting meaningful negotiations among opposing interests to help them come to an agreement. The mediators volunteer their services to help keep disputes out of court, help families overcome disagreements and to help with issues such as the CAFO committee discussions.
Cameron, who lives in Cecil County, was one of 25 mediators in the state selected to learn how to become a facilitator for public policy issues. She said she is happy to be able to use her knowledge to help in this situation.
The facilitator had to do a quick study of the topic prior to the Tuesday night meeting.
It started with a conversation with Cecil County Council Manager James Massey.
“I met with Jim last Friday,” Cameron said. He gave her a large stack of documents about CAFOs and she spent some hours becoming acclimated to the topic and how other jurisdictions have tackled issues and regulations.
The county’s CAFO committee has representatives from farming interests, community members near a recently-permitted facility, a public official and some citizens from various areas of the county.
“They are a pretty diverse group,” Cameron said.
During the introductions, Cameron asked them to voice their priorities for the county. They agreed on the importance of public health, the environment and economic development as being very important.
“Negotiations are sometimes messy,” she observed. “You want to start off on your best foot by finding common ground.”
This agreement is one way that Cameron encourages a more harmonious discourse among members of any committee. The individuals realize that there is a basic agreement on community values.
Maintaining order is key for any successful discussion, Cameron said.
Respectful conversation is a requirement for any group effort, she said.
“One of the things I always remind people is that I’m tough on issues, I’m soft on people,” she said.
“These folks did very well,” Cameron said, when asked to assess the first meeting of the CAFO committee.
The committee is set to meet every two weeks through August and September.
They have been charged with coming up with possible recommendations for the Cecil County Council to consider.
That is a lot of work to do during a handful of meetings.
“I give homework,” Cameron said, explaining she gave committee members things to study and consider so they can come to the next meeting ready to work toward decisions. “It lets us make the most of our time.”
“My hope is that by continuing to get input from all the stakeholders will result in collaboration,” she explained.
With one of the main companies, Perdue, committed to farming operations that exceed government standards, Cameron said she is optimistic that the CAFO meeting will be successful.
She said the group discussed a lot of issues during their first meeting and she believes the pace and volume of issues to be considered will accelerate during the coming meetings.
As an end result, Cameron is sure the CAFO group will come up with the requested list of recommendations for the County Council.