Legal intervention is sometimes unavoidable, but it can become more of a tool to exert power than a means to a peaceable resolution.
In the justice system, Mawn said, “someone loses, someone wins. It plays right into that dynamic.”
“What mediation allows people to do is retain their dignity,” he said.
The city’s current code enforcement scheme is black and white.
“Code enforcement is largely a complain-driven system,” said Assistant City Attorney Paul Bengford. “If someone calls, we go out and investigate. If we find a violation, that’s something that needs to be addressed.”
The city might works with the target of complaints or suggest an outside mediator, Bengford said, but it’s not a formal part of the process.
Police do informal mediation of their own in repeat neighbor dispute cases, according to police spokesman Sam Clemens. Officers will tell neighbors to turn down a stereo or stop shooting fireworks, but they don’t always witness criminal activity.
Sometimes, negotiation is the only way to fend off further calls, Clemens said.
“What they’re doing is trying to find some kind of compromise to where these people can get along,” he said. “There’s a lot of time spent trying to figure out ‘What’s something you can live with? What’s something the other person can live with?’”
Formal mediation is available, though it’s underused in South Dakota according to Hartford attorney Robin Eich.
“Your average person doesn’t have a clue that mediation exists,” Eich said.
Eich’s work as a mediator focuses mostly on divorces and custody disputes. She moderates as couples to hammer out custody arrangements, which can then be taken to a judge for a signature.
The process can leave both sides happier than an adversarial hearing would, and it can happen a lot faster.
“If you want to schedule a one day trial in Minnehaha County, you’re looking at probably five months out,” Eich said.
Mediation can help in neighbor disputes, Eich said, but there are limits: Both sides need to feel safe and be willing to compromise.
“It depends on who that person is that’s playing the loud music. Are they reasonable?” Eich said. “Both sides have to understand that they need to come into it level-headed.”