The Douglas County Commission went from courthouse to farm field Monday to settle a dispute between two landowners.
Douglas County commissioners left the comfort of their courthouse dais Monday morning to scramble over rock-strewn ground and under low branches along a hilly property line southwest of Lawrence.
The commissioners were participating in a rare fence viewing to decide who should be maintaining a fence separating the properties of Arden Booth and George Luckan.
Gathered around a pickup truck afterward, they agreed Booth's part of the fence wasn't much worse than Luckan's. The commissioners suggested the two families either split the cost of running new fence the entire boundary length or continue to try to maintain their halves.
"You both have got to work together on this fence to ever make it work," Commissioner Tom Taul said.
Luckan, who requested the fence viewing, was none too happy with the decision.
"I got screwed," he said.
Luckan requested the fence viewing, alleging the Booth family wasn't tending its half of the fence and hadn't for most of the 15 years they've lived there.
Kansas law says property owners share the responsibility for common fence lines. Kansas custom dictates that each property owner is responsible for the right half as he or she looks at the fence. In this case, it puts responsibility for the west half on the Booths.
"It's been that way for 100 years, right hand, left hand," said Luckan, who has lived on the family farm all his 74 years.
During the walk, the commissioners found a few places on Luckan's half that would allow cattle through.
"They could hop right over that," Nieder said of a place where a branch had fallen over the fence.
The same could be said for several places on Booth's half. In many places, the decades old wires was embraced by growing tree trunks.
That didn't surprise commissioners, who said the county is filled with decrepit fence lines and rusted wire, little of it meeting the legal requirement of at least three strands that can take 950 pounds of pressure.
"There is nothing unique about this fence at all," Taul said.
Realizing the commissioners' weren't going to require the Booths to bring their half of the fence up to the legal minimum, Luckan said: "In other words you don't want to abide by the law."
"We are the law," Commission Chairman Dean Nieder said.
Kansas law names county commissioners the arbiters for fence disputes.
-- Kendrick Blackwood's phone message number is 832-7221. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.