On January 1, 1994, I officially became the Director of what is now called Jefferson County Mediation Services (JCMS). It was simply the Mediation Services Program when the doors opened. The County provided funding for me as the contract administrator for 40 hours per month, gave me a cubicle in the Human Services Department and placed the Program under what is now Justice Services. In late 1993, I had met with District Attorney Dave Thomas and Sheriff Ron Beckham to see if they could find some spare funds in their budgets to let me put together a real program. They each found $5,000 and made it available to the mediation program. With that money, I acquired a computer and paid for the training of our first ten volunteer mediators (with CDR Associates, in Boulder, giving Jefferson County a group rate for their December, 1993 40-hour mediation training). I then recruited ten more mediators with previous training and experience, allowing the use of the co-mediation model for any prospective cases (an experienced lead mediator working with a trained rookie). Over twenty years later we are still using this co-mediation model. Community Mediation in Jefferson County, Colorado was born!
Our first customers were, as anticipated, Animal Control (those pesky barking dog cases), the Sheriff’s Office (the typical neighborhood conflicts) and the District Attorney’s Office (neighborhood cases already on the fast track to court). In February, 1994 the first case was referred by Animal Control (from Officer Jim Riddle, who still sends us cases today), and the total grew to 69 cases by year’s end. During that year, another newly-trained volunteer, Ed Hollingshead, came to our program via a lay-off from the aerospace industry. He devised our first database – an expanded Excel spreadsheet. He even brought his own computer – a huge asset since there was no money in the program budget to provide him with one. The next year, our program used its meager resources to process just over 100 cases, and additional agencies like Planning and Zoning and Human Resources discovered our services. In a real breakthrough moment, late in 1995, we agreed to try mediating in Small Claims Court. This was the beginning of real program diversification which has not stopped to this day.
A willingness to at least try to apply conflict resolution techniques to any problem we received propelled continuous program growth. Mediating on the fly for four nights a week in Small Claims Court increased our case numbers to several hundred per year by 1997. Trained volunteer mediators knew that JCMS offered the chance to get experience in a wide variety of conflicts. Before long, we were mediating in other courts, doing County Court cases and handling divorce and child custody cases for the District Court. The Human Resources Department was using us to help resolve workplace conflicts, and other departments were asking us to facilitate workgroup planning sessions. The municipalities were next. Cities like Arvada, Golden, Lakewood and Wheat Ridge (all located within Jefferson County) began sending us their neighborhood squabbles. Moving into the 21st Century, our yearly case numbers were nearing 1,000 and our mediator numbers surpassed 100. Our staff also grew from one to two, and then three.
The next milestone came when, in 2007, Child Support Services asked us if we could mediate parenting time cases for their clients, since their work addressed only support, not the closely-related issue of parenting time. As usual, we said, “Sure”. The cases jumped by another several hundred, and JCMS became a destination point for mediators who wanted experience in these domestic conflicts. We continue to have a wonderful mutually-beneficial relationship with Child Support Services, and they continue to find new issues for which we can provide services (the latest being mediation of court-ordered support modifications).
Our 2013 Annual Report shows that JCMS handled 1,613 cases from 25 different County agencies, cities, courts and/or non-profit entities. We have pioneered new practice areas like shuttle conferencing between parties in Protection Order court to help the parties and the courts develop orders benefitting the parties and often their children (a technique developed in cooperation with a local non-profit, Family Tree’s Legal Advocacy Program). We have joined other jurisdictions in mediating between law enforcement officers and complaining members of the public. At JCMS, we are embarking on new adventures in conflict resolution all the time. We are building our relationship with the Jefferson County Schools, bringing mediation and facilitation to student-student conflicts, parent-teacher conflicts, truancy issues . . . the list of possibilities here is nearly endless. Our relationship with Jefferson County Open Space is growing all the time. My work with two of our volunteer mediators to team-facilitate the Jefferson County 2014 Public Shooting Range Working Group is the most recent example of this collaboration.
We now have a staff of five supervising more than 250 volunteer mediators. We continue to attract more trained mediators to our ranks of volunteers, allowing JCMS to remain the largest and most comprehensive and innovative community mediation program in Colorado. This year, 2014, begins our “second score” of years. I hope someone can talk about beginning JCMS’s “third score” in 2034!