By Keith Whitcomb Jr. 

Two local leaders are offering to teach Rutland County board chairs some conflict resolution skills for free.

Michael Shank, of Brandon, and Lisa Ryan, of Rutland City, said Tuesday they got the idea to offer this free training after learning about each other’s backgrounds at a Project VISION meeting.

Ryan sits on the Rutland City Board of Aldermen and works as director of Rutland County Community Justice Center at BROC Community Action. Shank is chairman of the Brandon Planning Commission and is the communications director for the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance. Each has a background in conflict mediation.

“I feel, over the last couple of months, that I’ve been watching the community split apart more and more, and part of it is probably enhanced by the fact we’re speaking virtually, primarily,” said Shank.

The COVID-19 pandemic pushed most public entities into meeting remotely through online services such as Zoom. While some have resumed in-person meetings, many remain online or use a mix of both.

Shank and Ryan did not cite any specific issue or instance as an example of when the training they’re offering would come into play, though there have been several tense local controversies surrounding school flags and mascots as well as a heated presidential election cycle.

They have not yet designed a curriculum for the training and plan to see what the level of interest is like before working out a time and format. Those who lead a municipal, school or public entity board are invited to email Shank and Ryan at

“I’m on the board of aldermen, and we could use it there, the School Board could use it,” said Ryan. “I think there’s many places around the county and different boards where skill building and different tactics around negotiation and issues would be really helpful for folks engaging in conversation.”

Shank said their goal isn’t to end conflicts or change anyone’s mind about an issue or topic. Both said conflict is a good thing and good can come from it when it’s managed well. Shank said they haven’t attempted an inventory of the skills Rutland County’s board chairs possess, but feel many could use this training simply because few people have had it.

Ryan said she sought education in mediation after having completed much of her official schooling. She returned home to figure out what she wanted to do and while working in a restaurant some people she was waiting on suggested it to her after talking to her for a little while.

Whatever the format ends up being, said Shank, it will likely be online. He doubts remote meetings will end anytime soon given the state of the pandemic, so it makes sense to train that way.

Ryan said group role playing will also be involved, as that’s the best way to simulate the situations they’re training people for.

Each said they hope word of mouth will spread word to the county’s leaders, but they may also do direct outreach. Ryan said the training was made free specifically so there would be few barriers to chairs taking them up on it. They’re also happy to train other board members if the chair can’t make it and there’s interest.

The hope, Ryan said, is those they train will pass their skills on to their boards. Also, she said, the training helps the individual in all aspects of their life.