Government at all levels is frequently criticized for its bureaucratic handling of tasks most objective observers would argue are relatively uncomplicated.
Properly identifying a dilapidated house for condemnation and overseeing its destruction is one example.
But last year, the city mistakenly marked David Underwood’s perfectly livable 1,300-square-foot home in the 9700 block of Watercress Drive for demolition and subsequently had it razed, instead of appropriately assigning that fate to the condemned house next door.
The northwest Fort Worth home, which had been in the Underwood’s family for years, was fortunately unoccupied but being used to store some antiques and other personal effects at the time. According to reports in the Star-Telegram, the Underwoods had planned to move from their home in southwest Fort Worth to the Watercress house, which they recently had purchased from a family member.
Alas, the city had other plans.
It’s easy to understand the confusion and disbelief the Underwoods felt when approaching their property, now devoid of any structure, on a hot July day last year.
What’s difficult to understand is how the Fort Worth couple so graciously handled the confounding situation.
“It was a mistake. I have tried to maintain all the way through this that mistakes happen,” Underwood told Star-Telegram reporter Caty Hirst. “It is not making a mistake that defines you, but how you respond to it and what you do with that. I think the city has stepped forward.”
Indeed, the city did.
Last week the parties reached a settlement, achieved through mediation not litigation.
In our overly litigious culture of very large cash awards, the $102,500 settlement is a very reasonable sum given the home’s market value of $122,200 — $82,200 in improvements and a $40,000 lot value.
The case also a review and comprehensive rewriting of city policy in an effort to prevent future blunders.
Clearly, there were lessons to be learned.
But the Underwoods’ charitable response to the city’s error offers the best lesson in this story.
It’s a reminder about what’s important, what’s not and how acts of forgiveness are not as rare as we sometimes believe.