The nastiest battle I've ever seen at a city council meeting was over a stupid six-inch strip of grass.
I’ve been attending monthly or bi-monthly city council meetings in Redwood Falls and Sleepy Eye for about eight years now.
The nastiest fight I’ve seen at any of them was over a six inch wide strip of land.
This was at Sleepy Eye maybe six years ago. I don’t remember the particulars, but I do remember the basic story.
It seems a houseowner in town (we’ll call him “Mr. Smith”) wanted to some landscaping on his front lawn. Before Smith could have the work done, the city required him to commission a new survey of his property.
Well, the first survey of that land had been done something like a hundred years earlier. Using the surveying tools available at the time, the property line was set at a certain point just so, and there you go.
However, the new survey was done using the latest equipment, with GPS, and lasers accurate to the billionth of an inch.
According to the new survey, the old property line — the official, legally-recognized one listed on the city’s century-old records — was about six inches off.
That led to an epic showdown in the city council chambers that would have been titled “A Clash of Titans” if it had appeared in a 1960s Marvel comic.
Mr. Smith claimed the new survey gave him that six inches of land. He wanted the city to change their old records to officially acknowledge that strip of grass was his — and had been all along.
The man’s neighbor (we’ll call him “Mr. Jones”) begged to differ. Mr. Jones begged to differ with extreme prejudice.
That six inch strip of land was Jones’, had been his or his father’s for as long as they’d been alive, and he didn’t care what some new surveyors claimed.
Those metal pins had been in the ground of Jones’ lawn for longer than anyone in that council chamber had been alive, had priority, and should be respected.
Jones claimed that if the city abided by the new survey and legally recognized the six inches of grass belonged to Smith, there would be consequences.
There would be a lawsuit, and Jones would demand the city reimburse him for all the property tax he and his ancestors had paid on that six inch strip of grass going back for decades.
At that point, the city council members basically threw up their hands, admitted they didn’t know what to do and would have to refer the matter to the city attorney for study.
I’d love to tell you the story had a nice, dramatic conclusion, with people jumping across tables and strangling each other, but it must have just petered out since I don’t remember how it was eventually resolved.
It’s really easy for those of us not involved in the fight to snicker and say, “Big deal! Who cares?” And I suspect those neighbors probably had issues with each other going back long before the survey was commissioned.
But even so, to those two people, that six inch strip of land was the most important six inch strip of land in the world — because it was their six inch strip of land.
And you wonder why people in the Middle East can’t get along.