Council votes to lift cemetery limits

Friday, March 25, 2011

On a 3-2 vote Wednesday, Lewisburg councilmen decided to delete prohibitions against outlining graves in the city's eight cemeteries - a decision reached with a standing-room-only crowd staring down elected leaders.

Surviving relatives of some people buried in city cemeteries have placed brick pavers, boards, garden edging, concrete curbs, rock and other outlines over their loved one's graves. That's interfered with maintenance, as have mementoes and other objects.

Councilman Robin Minor proposed changes to an ordinance championed by Councilman Ronald McRady, chairman of the Cemetery Board. Until the amendment is enacted on a third successful vote, prohibitions remain in effect.

A long public hearing conducted one week ago tonight revealed hurt feelings among survivors of those buried in city cemeteries, most notably Lone Oak Cemetery where this week mowers moved quickly between graves since mementoes were removed and made available at the city garage on North Fifth Avenue.

At issue is an ordinance stating those who purchase graves in Lewisburg cemeteries have "the right to use the lot for burial interment only." Ownership rests with the city. State law says cemetery owners shall maintain them "so as to reflect the memory of the dead in keeping with the reasonable sensibilities of survivors..."

Councilman Quinn Brandon Stewart spoke up for the sensibilities of all survivors, explaining city residents contacting her in support of some regularity of maintenance outnumbered those who opposed limitations on decorations.

However, Minor responded to residents who feel adversely affected by what's become known as Item 7.

"No outline of grave sites such as decorative rocks, mulch, mini nuggets, solar lights, etc. and the decoration of wildlife [figurines] and such shall not be permitted with the exception of the American Flag and/or State Flag which will still be permitted," Item 7 states.

That prohibition is to be deleted from the ordinance upon a third and final vote by the council. A second vote is anticipated on April 12 when the council meets for its regularly scheduled monthly session at 6 p.m. Prior to that, a public hearing is to begin at 5:50 p.m., the traditionally scheduled time for hearings on ordinances up for a second vote.

If the ordinance is adopted in accordance with the regular schedule of meetings, the final vote would be on May 10, two days after Mother's Day, the traditional time for cemetery decoration day in Lewisburg when veterans place American flags at the graves of their fallen comrades. That schedule would mean the prohibitions would still be in effect on May 8, Mother's Day.

With nearly 75 people in the City Hall audience Wednesday evening, it was clear the overwhelming majority oppose the rule prohibiting decoration of graves with outlines and various objects that could result in delay to, or damage of, mowers.

The sentiment, however, was just the opposite on Thursday morning when Mayor Barbara Woods received phone calls at City Hall from survivors of those interred at city cemeteries.

"Every phone call I've gotten this morning has been from people who are adamantly against the change of the rules," Woods said. "They like it the way it is" with restrictions against what some have called "trinkets" hung on tombstones or shepherds' crooks pushed into the ground near headstones.

"One said she didn't feel like with that crowd she would be able to state her opinion" at this week's meeting, or even the public hearing scheduled for April 12, the mayor said.

While it's clear there was a majority of people speaking against the restrictions on March 18 when rules were suspended to hear the public's view, Woods said, "The other side needs an opportunity to speak."

Wednesday night's special-called meeting did not include comments from the public.

"This is a good ordinance," McRady said, asking councilmen to refrain from changing it.

Minor again announced that he made a mistake by voting for it when it was enacted on June 8, 2010.

As for councilmen taking stands for equal treatment, some saw differences in the way grave outlines were removed with wood and brick pavers being taken away while concrete or stone were left alone. McRady defended the decision to leave the concrete curbs and granite, saying they're historic.

During Friday's meeting, the council voted 3-2 to table the amendment that would remove Item 7.

Wednesday, Councilmen Hershel Davis, Odie Whitehead Jr. and Minor voted to resume discussion of the amendment. McRady and Stewart voted no.

The count on the amendment's first vote was also 3-2 with Davis, Minor and Whitehead voting yes and McRady and Stewart voting no.