David Mendelsohn

From The Manager, Boston University School of Management

When people come to David Mendelsohn (Public Management MBA ’94), they’re usually seeing red. His job is to persuade them to try on glasses with a different tint — green. Mendelsohn is the dispute resolution specialist for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. When parties can’t agree on an environmental issue, it’s up to him to get them to think of the environment first, and then to create a win-win situation for all involved. However, Mendelsohn explains, “I don’t tell people what to do; I help them find the solution. I ask questions to get them to talk — and listen — carefully.” In his position working for a governmental agency, creating resolution can be especially tricky. For one thing, most of the disputes he helps resolve involve at least six parties, such as municipalities, community groups, and politicians. For another, the debates are usually carried out in public. “That makes it a lot more complicated and it’s necessary to lay more groundwork,” he says. “I have to earn the trust of all the parties by being consistent and honest.”

A huge project Mendelsohn has been working on since 1996 is the clean-up and restoration of Muddy River — which flows through parts of Boston and Brookline — and the surrounding recreational areas. Development and environmental thoughtlessness over the last century has resulted in a badly polluted river full of trash and toxic chemicals. The parties interested in the Muddy River project include 20 public agencies from the state, federal, and two city governments, as well as legislators, institutional neighbors, and eight citizen groups. Of course, with so many interested groups comes lots of politics and different points of view, Mendelsohn says. But with his MBA in public management and years of experience in negotiations and dispute resolution, Mendelsohn has the tools he needs to get everyone on the same page. He is orchestrating a solution that will result in flood management, water quality improvement, and landscape preservation.

One surprising strategy he’s learned over the years is “asking people to come to the [negotiation] table selfish,” he explains. “I want them to come and tell the other side what’s important to them. Then we can work on integrating the different interests to get a win-win outcome.”