The organization of the early “Network” began in 1985 after a number of Court Service Units met in Petersburg to explore the growth of mediation in Virginia Courts. The initial steering committee had six members located in different geographic regions. Three more members joined the committee within a couple of months. The initial steering committee had nine members and unfortunately there is no official record of their names.
The earliest minutes from October of 1987 records what we know now is the Virginia Mediation Network (VMN). Present were Joann Jackson, Donnie Connor, John Moore, Denton Walthall, Phil Hartwell, Mike Traylor, Vickie Etheridge and Diane Bryner. Tim Salius and Bob Tompkins presented information about AFCC, an international association of Court workers that focused on services for families. The mission of AFCC was to provide education and a forum to share information. The association offers technical assistance and resource development to individual states. At the time they were hoping to expand regional chapters in Arizona and California.
VMN’s founders were highly organized with committees and subcommittees. They planned a fall conference, and the Keynote Speaker was Susan Ward. They were hoping for 70 attendees. They also began the newsletter and Tim Walsh accepted responsibility for its planning and production. The first organizational dispute in VMN was about establishing lines of communication and being transparent about suggestions versus directives.
VMN’s first training was in May 1988 to teach basic skills. In addition, the long-range goals included two projects a year including a survey about affiliation interest. The committee supported the House Joint Resolution 246 Committee and desired to stay current on any findings by the legislative study commission. The founders were particularly concerned about confidentiality and immunity in the mediation process and establishing relationships with Court Service Units. They also built relationships with the Director of Youth Services and Social Services, supporting their initial mission of child support, visitation and custody issues. Of course, there were concerns about funding the organization and the best way to do that.
Moving forward to March 1989 Bob Miller and Tom Walsh joined the steering committee with Karen Asaro in attendance at a meeting. The committee’s main priorities were to establish standards for mediation, establish creditability, lobby for their interest, increase public awareness and training. Some of the members felt it was important to be an “expert resource” in the field. They felt their relationships with the Bar and judges were important and wanted to support them. In early 1989 they began planning to become a professional advocacy group for ADR.
At the April 1989 meeting the steering committee decided to reorganize its structure and become a corporation. Draft mission statements and by-laws. Karen Asaro headed the membership committee and they set dues at $10 annually. By September the steering committee believed the reorganization should include a Board of Directors. The organizational meeting for the newly created Board of Directors was held on November 14, 1989. The members and positions of the BOD was Michael A. Traylor, President; Susan H Yoder; President Elect, Karen Asaro, Vice President; Angela Cimino-Valentine, Secretary; Denton Walthall, Chairperson: Conference Planning Committee; W. Doyle Currey, Chairperson: Procedures Committee; Tom Walsh, Chairperson: Newsletter Committee; Ruby Blair, Chairperson: Legislative Committee; and Joanne Jackson, Past President.
Notably the Virginia Mediation Network established its position to involve clients in establishing procedures and evaluation of mediation programs. The following resolution was passed by the Board:
"The Virginia Mediation Network acknowledged the need for client feedback and the importance of mediation programs to meet the client’s needs, therefore the network welcome and supports client involvement in the Virginia Mediation Network in their membership and encourages their participation on the committees."
Hosting conferences were central to the Virginia Mediation Network’s mission and continues to be so today. The conference locations moved around the state and at times was held jointly with other organizations. The Conference in Spring 1990 was co-jointly held by VMN and the Tidewater Mediation Association in Norfolk, VA. CME’s were approved by the Virginia Bar.
And VMN was officially born.
Another reorganization yielded a name change in the incorporation documents to VMN, Inc. with a goal to widen its appeal and interests to schools, state bar, etc. and maintaining a focus on private mediators. It will focus on all types of mediation cases not just divorcing couples. The new articles of incorporation were filed in August of 1990. The draft bylaws were written at the same time. The mission statement is as follows:
On the legislative, a significant bill was passed for referrals to mediation services. The bill covered child custody, visitation or support. The legislation was Senate Bill No. 833 in February 1991. It was the first time VMN, Inc. advocated for legislation that directly supported their clients. Again as a demonstration of VMN’s advocacy and influence, Community Mediation Week was submitted for a formal proclamation by the Governor in February 1992
A major happening in 1993 was a draft proposal to add to the current structure five categories of membership: coalitions of private provider mediators; community mediation centers; agency mediators (court staff); school connected mediators; and mediation trainers. It recognized the different stakeholders in mediation. There had been discussion of hiring an admin assistant and there was an attempt; they hired staff to help with the conference, but duties and salary amount were in controversy. The dispute was referred to mediation. Between the time of the referral and the mediation session date, the Board of Directors came to a cooperative decision with her to pay an honorarium.
An admin assistant position was contemplated and researched for the next year. A five year vision statement was written and included an organizational goals of establishing a permanent office; recognition of a mediator and program of the year award; awarding an annual student scholarship and job counseling service; identify jobs in the private/public sectors and change job descriptions; and to support public relations by developing a newsletter.
Discussions and plans continued about establishing a permanent office and hiring staff. Initially they thought membership could submit proposals for specific tasks. By 1995 an RFP has been circulated and was awarded to David Michael.
From 1995-1998, the organization operated with no notable changes. However, there was a new admin assistant, Morna Ellis was hired in the 1997-1998-time frame.
In 1999, the VMN website was designed and launched. The website offered a central place for all members to be kept up to date about current events and information. The newsletter frequency was set at five times a year and the advent of Publisher made it easier.
In 2000, the Board of Directors continued to make sure they were providing value to the VMN members and discussed ways to better support them. A featured presentation of the Fall Conference was how VMN and our members who serve the courts are actively engaged with the judges. The conference committee planned a plenary session with a panel of judges, Sara Cobb of the Harvard Program on Negotiation (now with the Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution), Greg Abell of the Washington State Association of Mediators and with the Board of Directors to discuss public policy issues.
John Settle recommended VMN draft legislation for all state agencies to serve as a general guideline for ADR as it pertains to their agency. VMN’s lead on this would promote mediation and increase the organization’s visibility. John approached VA Delegate James H. Dillard, who was a strong ally and pledged to assist us, suggested we identify members of the VA House Courts of Justice committee and the VA Senate’s Judiciary Committee in each of our members’ districts where they could be paired with their representatives to provide information, support and answer questions. Ethics in all mediation should include the four legal are discussed during the orientation; it is a sound practice in mediation and outside the courts too.
From 2001, VMN and the leadership concentrated on building strong relationships across the state: attorneys, bar associations, judges and community groups. In April of 2001 VMN convened a Public Section Workshop and invited local government and three Federal Government Agency representatives. They presented topics of ethics and workplace mediation. There was a discussion and brainstorming during the workshop with attendees suggesting initiatives and topics of public education marketing, training the trainer sessions and self-care methods. A “Dream List” was developed, and priorities set for developing a professional marketing plan; improving conferences; administrator compensation; community center scholarships; establishing a list serve and a visioning retreat.
In 2002, an opportunity for VMN emerged to cement its relationship with state governance. Jim Pope led the Legislative Committee in helping update the mediation statutes (576.4-12 & 581.21-26). which were signed into law by then Governor Mark Warner. Jim also led the VMN effort of joining in an amicus brief before the Virginia Supreme Court in the case of Riggins v. Riggins to adopt the Virginia Court of Appeals ruling in Shoup v. Shoup which established courts enforcing settlement agreements regarding child support once the child reached age of majority and as long as it was in the child’s best interest.
VMN was stable and the Board was working hard. The administrator well organized the VMN office to help provide continuity between Boards of Directors and to build the operational foundation. A number of marketing initiatives were implemented such as a brochure to be widely distributed among VMN members, Supreme Court certified mediators, community mediation centers, law schools, prior conference attendees and those on the information lists. A mediation process information video was produced entitled, “Mediation: The Alternative” and was spearheaded by the BOD member Lawrie Parker. The video was funded through grants from the Virginia Law Foundation and the Virginia Department of Social Services Access & Visitation Grant as well as funding from VMN. (An English and Spanish language version of the video can be found on VMN’s website: www.vamediation.org.) The “info disks” were widely sold and distributed as far away as Colorado and Nevada, and received rave reviews.
During this same time, John Settle and Carroll Dubac worked with the Joint ADR Committee of the Virginia State Bar to develop training for attorneys to use mediation in their practices. Vickie Williams and Sharon Ferguson led the first multi-culture initiatives. Membership was flourishing with a robust 320 members representing 27% of the state’s mediators. The BOD also examined VMN’s tax status (501 C6) to make sure the organization could participate in lobbying efforts.
In 2004 VMN continued to work with other organizations whose mission was conflict resolution including the Mediator Peer Consultation project brainchild of VMN member Jeanette Twomey. The MPC project was a joint venture with the Virginia Association of Community Conflict Resolution (now Resolution Virginia) and VMN. (MPC workshops are still held today for CME credits.) Other joint projects were with the Virginia Interagency Dispute Resolution Council and the Joint Bar ADR Committee; and two results were: developing and teaching a mobile seven-hour training session and a train the trainer course.
Other changes/and or initiatives for 2004 included: the newsletter’s format and distribution methods changed from a mailed, paper copy to an electronic version published on VMN’s website; VMN members were provided ADR coaching services to support administrative agencies under Virginia Administrative Dispute Resolution Act (VADRA); the VMN website was reviewed/assessed and work began to create a directory of mediator members under the “Find a Mediator” tab offering the public a way to find a mediator among VMN members. The organization delivered two well-attended conferences. The website evolved too.
Transitioning to 2005, committees continued to be an integral part to maintain VMN as a healthy organization. Several of the BOD became involved with the ABA Task Force on credentialing to assess quality assurance, mentoring and credentialing and were on the Standards of Practice Committee. Other VMN committees were: Strategic Planning, Conference Planning, Website, Publications, Marketing and Public Relations, Legislative, Youth, Multicultural, Special Projects and Virginia Bar ADR Liaison. The focus of 2005 was the continuation of providing value of membership through education and information to its members.
In 2006, John Curry, BOD member, recognized a gap that he proposed VMN fill in leadership/advocacy role at judicial conferences, working with DRS, engaging the legislature, advocacy for fair compensation, and efficiencies in the process. He added that he felt VMN members could benefit from sessions focusing on building their individual practices. The “Find a Mediator’s” subscription for interested members were offered at $20 for individuals and $30 for businesses. Many ideas were being floated to distinguish VMN’s mediators and ways increase value of membership.
VMN welcomed a new contract administrator in 2007. The Board researched more distribution avenues for the “info discs” which were now in both English and Spanish. And work on the “Find a Mediator” tab on the VMN website continued and were refined throughout this year.
2008 brought a heightened awareness of VMN’s role in the legislative process. The Legislative Committee was directed via a motion that information be gathered about any laws, proposals and bills that will affect mediation and restorative justice; how VMN should react; what actions VMN should take and then implement positions and actions approved by the Board of Directors. One such bill in the legislature that session was HB 1290 which involved restorative justice and the support of the Restorative Justice Association of VA. Of course, approval from membership in participation and direction was important.
Reciprocal website linking was considered with the Virginia Association of Community Conflict Resolution Centers including the Northern Virginia Mediation Service, Piedmont Dispute Resolution Center and the Supreme Court of Virginia. Membership numbers could be enhanced if there were discounts in the membership fee if a person decided to join midyear. The BOD noted the challenging financial times people were experiencing during this time. The conference was hosted at the Wintergreen Resort and offered a cost-effective venue.
VMN, working with the Joint ADR Committee of the Virginia State Bard in 2009, recognized the importance of the orientation session in appropriate child custody, visitation and support cases. In a joint effort VMN helped with an Elder Law Mediation Training as well as highlighting the topic during the conference. Geetha Ravindra discussed supporting the Federal Reserve Bank in Virginia with training related to foreclosure training as a number of states were using mediation for foreclosure situations. (At the time mediation was not being used in foreclosures in Virginia).
The Board discussed widening the VMN umbrella to include other conflict resolution and prevention tools that could fit with the organization’s mission and could increase membership. In addition to the normal categories of membership, non-mediator associate and student memberships could be added. VMN continued to be engaged with DRS about certification and recertification requirements.
In 2010 the legislature looked at making the dispute resolution orientation mandatory. A bill did pass out of a Senate subcommittee but did not go any further as the Office of the Executive Secretary at the Supreme Court of Virginia had concerns about the “mandatory” nature.
There was still discussion in 2010 about the challenges of using mediation in foreclosures because Virginia was not a judicial foreclosure state. To offer mediation in foreclosures the banking industry would need to be approached directly. Several other states use mediation in foreclosures and offered to support VMN’s efforts.
The Board discussed the idea of a “senior status mediator” which would afford some leeway with the number of cases then required for recertification. Also, there was concern about designating mediators as either attorney or non-attorney. A benefit for members in good standing was proposed to allow the members to use their VMN logo on their websites, business cards, letterheads, etc.
VMN established the Distinguished Mediator Award program in 2010 which is awarded annually to a VMN member. Paula Young, past President of the VMN Board, was the first honoree.
In 2012, the Board discussed revising the organization’s committee structure and trying a new concept for the spring conference. Instead of having a multi-day conference, the conference committee proposed a one-day conference with a national speaker. The Board agreed and the Spring 2013 conference was held with national speaker Sharon Strand Ellison.
The Board also held a retreat in early 2013 and worked on many topics including the organization’s Mission/Vision statements (which can be found on VMN’s webpage under the “About Us” tab).
An ongoing concern in 2013 (and in ensuing years), was the decline in the number of certified mediators in the state; down to 500 at this time. Reasons mentioned were barriers to getting certified as well as Supreme Court requirements. The Board also looked to shift conferences from hotels to high-er education sites in order to build relations with academia, help attract younger members, and be more cost effective. The Spring conference was held at the University of Richmond Alumni Center and the fall Conference was held at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg area. During 2013, VMN updated the organization’s website to make it easier to use. The Legislative Committee was al-so busy and the organization supported legislation to eliminate a requirement in JDR child support cases to include the child support worksheet when no agreement was reached.
At the 2013 annual membership meeting, VMN member Bob Carpenter (now VMN Treasurer) pro-posed that the organization approach the Virginia General Assembly and request an increase in the compensation mediators are paid for court referred mediations. After much discussion among the membership present, a resolution was passed (with one vote in opposition) that stated “Now be it re-solved, the Members of the Virginia Mediation Network have declared its Board of Directors, or any special task force the Board may appoint, launch a two-step process to investigate, research and re-port back to membership on the decision to advocate the Virginia General Assembly for an increase in Mediator pay to a level consistent with the professional service that Mediators provide to the Commonwealth.”
Work began on this proposal at the end of 2013 with an initial information meeting between VMN President Jennifer Phillips and Board members Karen Richards and Lawrie Parker with Mark Rubin of the Virginia Center for Consensus Building (VCCB) at VCU who has years of experience as a mediator, government official and lobbyist. He provided the group with thoughts and suggestions as to how to move forward regarding mediator compensation.
The Mediator Compensation Task Force (MCTF) was formed in early 2014 and included VMN members, VMN Board members, Dispute Resolution Services representatives and Christine Poulson of the Virginia Association of Community Conflict Resolution (now Resolution Virginia and Christine is now a current VMN Board member). The MCTF researched and developed a report on the history of mediator compensation in Virginia. It also developed a 17-question survey about mediator compensation that MCTF members used in discussions with state court coordinators in the southeastern US. The MCTF also created and developed a survey about mediator compensation that was sent to all Virginia Certi-fied Mediators.
The MCTF reported its findings at the September 14, 2014 VMN Annual Member Meeting and concluded pursuing the General Assembly for an in-crease in mediator compensation would be a multi-year, multi-prong process and require significant effort by the VMN membership. The MCTF in November of 2014 recommended to the VMN Board and membership that the organization move forward in pursuing mediator compensation with the legislature but noted that timing would be important given the state’s financial situation.
During 2014, VMN also worked on a joint venture with Mark Rubin of VCCB and VACCR on a training program for state legislators. The “Come to the Table” program would help state legislators convene stakeholders in a public policy mediation process to address and resolve complex public policy problems. This collaborative effort was seen as an important step in setting the stage for VMN’s future engagement with the legislature on the compensation issue. Grant funding was sought for the project but, unfortunately, was unsuccessful.
Mediator compensation and legislative issues weren’t the only items on the VMN Board’s plate in 2014. For the 2015 spring conference, the Board decided to try a regional meeting concept with a 2-hour video workshop presentation with a live facilitator. Board member Brenda Waugh spearheaded the development of the project and worked with DRS for CME credit. There was discussion of eventually building a VMN video library.
At the end of 2014, VMN ended the relationship with its contract administrator. The Board met frequently throughout 2015 as it worked on the reorganization of VMN’s business policies and procedures and the eventual hiring of Jeanne Mann as VMN’s contract administrator.
The 2015 spring regional meetings were a great success and video showings were hosted by VMN Board members and VMN members throughout the state. And the 2015 Fall conference was held at the University of Richmond Law School with conference materials going “green”. Attendees were provided digital copies of the conference manual or could pay an additional fee for a printed manual.
2015 was also a busy time for the MCTF which worked to find a way to bring this issue to the attention of the state legislature. It was decided that focusing on an increase in JDR mediation compensation would be the best path forward as the fees were set by statute (20-124.4). It was also decided to ask that child support cases be paid separately and payment not be combined with custody/visitation cases. The MCTF learned that GDC/JDR judges were asked to submit legislative proposals for consideration by the Law Revision Committee. With the support of the VMN Executive Committee, MCTF members reached out to some JDR judges to ask them to support these two proposals. Two judges-one in Culpepper and one in Virginia Beach-- did submit legislative proposals to the Law Revision Committee which unfortunately were unsuccessful.
Then, in the summer of 2015, with the support of the Joint ADR Committee of the Virginia Bar As-sociation and the Virginia State Bar, a proposal regarding increased mediator compensation was submitted for consideration to the VBA to be included as part of that organization’s 2016 Legis-lative Agenda. The proposal was endorsed by the VBA who assigned a pro bono lobbyist to ad-vise and shepherd legislation through the 2016 General Assembly session. With the VBA’s backing of the mediator compensation proposal, ongoing efforts to have then-Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe include increased compensation in his 2016 biennial budget came to fruition. With that, and the bi-partisan backing of state dele-gates and senators, the stage was set for the 2016 General Assembly session.
The beginning of 2016 was a very busy period for the VMN Board and the membership. The state legislature went into session in early January and the mediator compensation bills – HB 287 sponsored by then-Delegates Gregory Habeeb and David Toscano and SB 606 sponsored by Senator Bryce Reeves – moved through various committees and floor votes. VMN President Karen Richards, VACCR Ex. Director Christine Poulson along with VMN Legislative Committee members Lawrie Parker and Betty Russo as well as com-munity mediation center directors and other VMN members worked tirelessly either testifying before committees in Richmond or getting the word out to VMN and VACCR members to call/email their legislators to support the bills. And it worked.
While it took a lot of time with many twists and detours, the goal of increasing mediator compensation for JDR cases happened. The statute, 20-124.4, was clarified and JDR mediators would now be able to bill separately for a child support case. While the statute still says payment for JDR cases are $100, an increase to $120 was included in the state’s department of justice annual budget (and remains today).
But 2016 wasn’t only about mediator compensation. In the spring VMN offered another round of regional meetings with a newly produced video hosted by on-site facilitators. The organization also offered two successful webinars. VMN held another successful fall conference at the University of Richmond’s School of Law.
The VMN Board continued refining the business side of the organization developing new financial policies to keep the organization on solid financial footing; developing a communication policy regarding what member-driven programming in-formation the organization would share on its website and with VMN members; and establishing a new Board member orientation to smooth transitions.
Membership numbers, an important part of VMN’s financial health, have tended to fluctuate in recent years. Always a concern, VMN Board member and membership chair Sue Faulkner developed a member satisfaction survey that was sent to members in the fall and provided useful information.
With the dawn of 2017, the VMN Board and members found themselves back in Richmond at the General Assembly. In collaboration with VACCR, the VMN Board and members participated in the first Legislative Day and the group was introduced on the House floor. Visits were made to legislators to thank them for supporting mediation in Virginia and providing information for their constituents. The March Mediation Month proclamation were handed out to all the Delegates and Senators. Buttons were also designed and hand-ed out to some legislators. VACCR also invited VMN to join its advisory committee.
VMN also began to increase its presence on social media and discussions were held about which platforms to utilize-Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. The organization also looked at virtual ways to handle membership renewals instead of using printed materials being mailed through the post office. The Board also provided input to DRS about proposed CME requirement changes that the state’s Judicial Council would need to approve. VMN also had a successful external audit of its financial records.
On the conference side, VMN offered two spring webinars which were well attended. The fall conference was again held at the University of Richmond law school and was very successful.
VMN again got off to a busy start in 2018 with the second “Virginia Mediation Education Day on the Hill” – a joint effort of VMN and VACCR. Book-marks listing effective conflict resolution tips were printed jointly with VACCR, featuring both organizations’ logos. The focus was to contact new legislators in the General Assembly. VMN submitted a Proclamation for Mediation Month to the Governor’s office.
On the conference front, two webinars were planned for the spring -- one featuring mediation author John Winslade and the other with former VMN Board member Lawrie Parker. The fall conference, held at the University of Richmond Alumni Center, was again a great success.
Discussions were held with VACCR about the declining number of mediators and the future of conflict resolution and mediation when the need for the skills are increasing.
In 2019, VMN decided to try an in-person spring conference in Richmond. Board member and Conference Committee Chair Dan Hand announced that Cinnie Noble, Cinergy Coaching, had agreed to be the featured speaker and present a workshop on Conflict Coaching. Then-VMN Board Member Dale Robinson also presented a workshop at the day-long conference.
At a Strategic Planning Day in May 2019, spearheaded by then-President Vickie R. Williams-Cullins, the Board renewed their commitment to serve all conflict resolution practitioners, increase the value of memberships to our members, invite ADR students to join and find an additional way to set our members apart from other mediators in the state. The day was facilitated by David Smith, a consultant, Maryland mediator, and adjunct professor at George Mason University. A number of initiatives were identified, and implementation began. Some of the initiatives identified were establishing a student rate, looking at a way to enhance our members professionalism through credentialing, expanding our umbrella beyond mediation practice to include other practitioners of conflict resolution tools, and many more.
In 2020, COVID-19 hit and VMN, along with all its members, faced both challenges and opportunities. By June 2020, the Board became convinced an in-person fall conference was not going to be possible. Numerous options were discussed from not having a conference to hosting a virtual conference. It was decided to offer an inaugural virtual conference. Under Dan Hand’s leadership, it was a resounding success. It presented opportunities to offer sessions from presenters from around the United States. It also afforded the opportunity to attend all sessions, no tough choices of which session to attend were needed. The presentations were recorded for viewing at another time and were available until the end of October.
After a long search, current VMN President, Pam Struss, found the MC3 Mediator Certification, a national certification, and it was presented during the conference. The VMN Board made lemonade out of the lemons of the Pandemic. The Executive Committee signed two MOUs with MC3 securing a $50 rebate for VMN members who become MC3 mediators and will become a preferred Education Provider for all MC3 Certified Mediator with CME’s educational webinars. Stay tuned for new initiatives to come.
The 2020-2021 VMN Board of Directors is excited and motivated to build on the success of past Boards and make membership in the VMN the professional organization highly valued.