Staedler: Binding arbitration needed for government agency disputes
A statue of Lady Justice. Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

When government agencies sue each other, it is simply a huge waste of taxpayer dollars. The only winners in these situations are the contracted attorneys on either side.

Those dollars could be used to fund vitally needed services, but are wasted going to a long, drawn out court battle. A majority of those matters could be negotiated fairly in today’s current system. There is a better way.

For a solution to this problem, it is easily found in most business contracts. An arbitration clause describes an alternative dispute resolution process that does not result in going to court. We need the state Legislature to create a binding arbitration process for government agencies, primarily neighboring cities and/or their county.

If you need an example as to why this legislation needs to happen, look no further than the myriad of litigation between San Jose with either the city of Santa Clara or Santa Clara County.

I’ve advocated for this type of legislation for years. Here is an example of the process that I propose:

  • A city, county, etc. must provide in writing to the other party the reason for the legal claim and the merits behind it.
  • Upon receipt of the claim, the government agency goes into the next available closed session to discuss with legal counsel.
  • The two parties meet and confer within two weeks.
  • Negotiators for either party meet again in the next available closed session to discuss resolution options.
  • Meet again within two weeks to negotiate a resolution.
  • Have each individual party vote on a negotiated resolution or declare an impasse.
  • Both sides will send to the state Supreme Court their terms of the resolution or their acknowledgement of an impasse.

If the matter has been ongoing before the legislation was enacted, both parties can waive the process above and move straight to the arbitration process.

If unresolved, an arbitration body of three individuals will be selected:

  • One member selected by the state Supreme Court
  • One member by the state Assemblymember’s office—if multiple Assembly districts cover the city, county, etc. it goes to the most senior member.
  • One member by the state Senator’s office—if multiple Senate districts the cover city, county, etc. it goes to the most senior member.

This panel will hear both sides and have the authority to make a binding decision of the matter. The entire process should take no longer than 90 to 120 days.

The people of California deserve better than government agencies suing each other and wasting taxpayer dollars. If the legislators change the rules of engagement, it will force the different agencies, cities and counties to work collaboratively on an ongoing basis. They will find a negotiated settlement better in the long term than rolling the dice on the outcome of binding arbitration.

Let’s have our elected leaders focus on the real issues facing our communities. Onward and upward.

San José Spotlight columnist Bob Staedler is a principal at Silicon Valley Synergy, a San Jose-based land use and development consulting firm. His columns appear every first Monday of the month. Contact Bob at [email protected] or follow @BobStaedler on Twitter.

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