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The Family Feud

Believe it or not, not all families get along. Often, members of a family can live in close proximity to each other and develop some deep distrust and animosity towards each other.


Unfortunately, sometimes those family fracases can spill over into the public realm – with municipal governments caught in the middle. When that happens, it’s usually a property boundary dispute that causes tempers to boil over.


The scenario begins something like this: The grandparents left some land for their offspring to settle on. After some time has passed, one or the other relatives claims that their sibling encroached onto their property, perhaps for installing a fence or improving an on-lot sewer system, etc. Once they have reached a boiling point with their relations, they end up in the local government office, pounding the desk in anger, hoping the municipality will side with them on the issue.


A personal example during my tenure as a township manager was a heated dispute over the naming of a private lane. Both families lived on the dead-end road and just needed the township to erect a street sign at the location according to the sign ordinance. The party that first approached the municipality to make this request, decided to name the private lane after their daughter. As manager, I felt it necessary to notify the other resident located on the lane about the naming. This opened up a huge can of worms. Unknowingly to the township staff, there was deep animosity between the two families. To say that the situation got totally out of hand is putting it mildly. After asking repeatedly for a compromise between the parties, it took nearly a year before they finally came to an agreement and a sign could be erected.


A more extreme situation was when a resident wanted to put an addition on their home, only to find out that the current structure was erected on the boundary line. The neighboring relative refused to sell a minor portion of their land to bring the home into compliance. This led to a lengthy exchange between the parties, and of course, the municipality was deemed the evil big brother.


These are just two examples. I’m sure my colleagues in municipal management have their own war stories. The bottom line is that family feuds can disrupt local government dynamics, leading to biased decision-making, lack of cooperation, and a negative impact on the community development.


The team at Keystone Municipal Solutions recognizes that challenges like these can and will arise from time to time in your municipal operation. When that happens, you’ll want an advisor at your side who has the necessary experience and can be a steady hand during these sometimes-tumultuous issues.


We stand ready to help your organization navigate these troubled waters. It may be time to "fire this thing up" and let your resident know that you are not willing to play the (Family Fued.)


 About the Author

David L. Anthony is a member of the Keystone Municipal Solutions team of experts. He is a veteran of municipal government, having served more than 33 years in various positions of public service. Contact him at To learn more about David and the Keystone Municipal Solutions team, click here.

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