Mediation Versus Litigation?
In one of the first stories I wrote for this blog, I compared Sunsites to my home town of Lamesa, Texas. Now I’d like to mention fictional Mayberry, home of Andy Taylor.
I have held back on mentioning the challenge we in Sunsites have faced for more than a year.
Sunsites’ 50th anniversary has been overshadowed by controversy over our golf course. Over the years, lots of small towns across the United States have struggled to preserve their golf courses. Sunsites is no exception. Our most recent struggle has divided the residents of our village.
While emotions raged, I gave much thought to Andy Taylor, sheriff of Mayberry, and to my father Ralph Kinsey, a small town attorney who also served as city attorney and then county attorney.
How would Andy Taylor or my father have counseled residents caught up in the passions of a local dispute?
I think Andy would have reminded Aunt Bea and Clara that no matter the outcome, when the dust cleared, they would still be standing side by side in the church choir, sitting next to each other at the beauty shop, and grieving together over the death of a friend.
As far as counseling “law and order” Barney, I believe Andy would tell Barney that sometimes it’s better to look the other way. Issuing speeding tickets and jaywalking tickets may be following the letter of the law, but sometimes, in a small community, compassion and understanding are more important to the lives of the people who rely upon each other.
Floyd’s barber shop, the typical gathering place for political discourse, could have been a hotbed of emotions, but Andy would have been the voice of reason.
I believe that Andy and Ralph Kinsey, both in law and order professions, would have understood that mediation trumps litigation, and they would have practiced what they preached.
Both understood that small towns and small counties don’t operate like the big city. Big city thinking and solutions don’t always work in rural settings.
My father, a county attorney, didn’t have the background or the highly-honed skills (or, might I add, the salary or staff) of the attorneys in Houston or Dallas or Phoenix. He dealt with people on a case-by-case basis. The residents of the county did not expect him to operate his office like a similar office would have operated in the city…nor did they want him to. Within the walls of the courthouse, Ralph Kinsey preferred mediation over litigation for the good of the people and the town.
Andy Taylor and Barney were fish out of water in the big city, but they always won out when it came to observing people. I can just see Andy Taylor getting combatants to sit down and talk things out, asking them to see the other person’s side. Andy Taylor and Ralph Kinsey reserved litigation for the really bad stuff that happened and for the really bad people.
Sunsites has been the center of litigation at great cost to Cochise County, to the merchants of Sunsites, to our reputation as a friendly little town, and to the residents caught in the middle of a controversy that they did not choose.
We can’t turn back the clock, but I think we have all learned lessons. Litigation hurts. Mediation heals.