More Fallout From the Boulder Land Grabber Case

The land dispute between Boulder neighbors that's at the center of the December 12 Message column just received its most prominent moment in the national spotlight to date: a four-minute spot heard by listeners to the NPR program All Things Considered on December 10. The piece stands out because it contains the lengthiest comments to date by Edith "Edie" Stevens, an attorney and onetime head of the Boulder Democratic Party who, with her husband, former judge and mayor Richard McLean, used a little-known doctrine dubbed adverse possession to seize one-third of an adjoining property owned by their neighbors, Susie and Don Kirlin (pictured). Stevens complained about feeling "beleaguered" by the attention she and McLean have received since early November, when the matter went public, and no wonder, since virtually all of it has been negative.

The Boulder Daily Camera, which initially rejected the story back in late 2006 but is now covering it extensively, posted an article about the NPR segment on the afternoon of December 11. By the following morning, more than fifty comments had been affixed to it, and that number is certain to grow, since an extended version of the offering appears in the physical edition published on December 12. (In addition, Don Kirlin guested on KHOW's Dan Caplis-Craig Silverman show the previous day, further spreading the news about Stevens' NPR bow.) These posts indicate that the interest in the matter the Kirlins call the Boulder land-grabber case is still running hot. But the more fervor a subject generates, the more time and energy it takes for Camera types to officiate the exchanges.

Because the Camera doesn’t vet comments in advance, the paper relies on readers to do much of the policing; each one is accompanied by a “suggest removal” link that allows people to mark anything they find objectionable. Camera editor Kevin Kaufman estimates that about twenty comments per day are flagged paper-wide, and while many of them are subsequently allowed to remain online, others get yanked under the provisions of the site’s user agreement, which states, “The Company reserves the right to delete any posting, message or photograph at any time, for any reason or no reason.” Kaufman says the hateful or racist comments that some sites routinely receive are blessedly rare among Camera commenters, but profanities and other potentially offensive blather do crop up on occasion and are dealt with correspondingly – and habitual abusers can be permanently prohibited from commenting.

According to Kaufman, the Camera tries to use these powers sparingly and to consider situations individually rather than falling back on blanket policies. For instance, home phone numbers placed in comments are usually removed to protect the privacy of those involved, but a link to McLean’s personal digits was left up because they appeared on an RTD website dating to a time when he was on the board of directors – a distinction that made them public in the view of Camera overseers. However, other comments have been yanked from land-grab stories due to content questions, resulting in assorted cries of censorship in remaining posts – among them an assertion that the Camera is making money off banned visitors because the site makes it seem as if they still have the ability to comment even when they don’t. Kaufman confirms that posts by surfers who’ve been blocked still appear on their screens even though they don’t show up on anyone else’s – a phenomenon he calls a quirk of the software. But he’s certain no significant income results from this bare handful of additional page views.

As of this writing, none of the new comments on the December 11 Camera report seem likely to be pulled by Camera website monitors. The spiciest of them reads, "Keep talk'n eDIE.....sounds like your tongue is digg'n your ass a pretty deep hole in the ground." Elsewhere, a far drier exchange debates the definition of "subjunctive supposition." If erudition like that doesn't kill interest in this story, it's likely to be filling pages for the long haul. -- Michael Roberts