Council's cemetery vote set April 26

Friday, April 15, 2011
John Perryman tells city councilmen that "this" dollar is behind controversy over new cemetery rules prohibiting outlines or barriers around graves resulting in removal of boards, stones and garden edging, but not concrete, marble or granite barriers seen by some as historic and costly.

Public opinion and a majority of Lewisburg councilmen appear ready to seal the fate for tombstone decoration rules now scheduled for an early grave.

During two consecutive monthly meetings, the council voted 3-2 for changing an ordinance adopted last year. Its effect became known when mowing season started and decorations were removed.

Stone angels, solar lights, barriers to keep people from walking on graves, mementoes left by grieving survivors and other decorations were removed by county jail trustees. They were made available in the city garage. Some were misplaced, some broken. Relatives were hurt and outraged.

At the close of Tuesday night's council meeting, it appeared that the third and final vote would be on the second Tuesday of May. That would be a week after the May 3rd election and during a regular monthly session when newly elected councilmen take their oath of office every other year.

But there were conversations among three councilmen after this week's meeting adjourned to have the required final vote earlier. Tuesday next week was sought, but the mayor can't be there then.

Now, a third vote on cemetery rules is set for 5 p.m. on April 26, one week before one of three men will succeed Councilman Quinn Brandon Stewart and incumbent Robin Minor faces challenger Jeff Payne at the polls. Early voting continues through April 28.

Minor and Councilman Odie Whitehead Jr. sought a special meeting that was opposed by Councilman Ronald McRady, chairman of the Cemetery Board and champion of the ordinance that led to removal of mementoes and other grave decorations. It was to make mowing easier and, some say, return some dignity to the cemetery.

After the regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, the Marshall County Tribune asked Councilman Hershel Davis if he agreed with Minor and Whitehead, that a special meeting should be held. Davis said yes. The subject was discussed in the City Hall elevator by at least four men and other residents.

By the end of business on Wednesday, City Recorder Brenda Brewer announced the special meeting had been called by the three councilmen who have voted as a block to change cemetery rules.

Special called meetings are for "emergencies" because the "welfare of the city demands it," McRady said during Tuesday's meeting when he also criticized liberal use of special voting sessions.

A number of non-voting workshops have been held to sort out information and for councilmen to express opinions.

"Just because you want it," McRady said, "doesn't cut it."

Mayor Barbara Woods concurred.

"We've got plenty of time," Woods said.

Costs associated with special meetings were cited.

Minor offered to refund his meeting payment to the city.

Councilmen turned to City Attorney Steve Broadway for an interpretation on how and why special meetings may be called.

"You could argue that the welfare demanded it," Broadway said. "That's pretty vague... It doesn't mention emergencies."

The mayor and the city manager may call special sessions, he said. So may three councilmen.

Minor cited public demand for changes he's proposed to the rules on decorating gravesites.

Thirty telephone calls to his house support change, he said. So do about 20 people who spoke for the ordinance amendment during a public hearing just before Tuesday's voting session began. And 1,099 people signed a petition "to keep items on headstones."

Those 1,099 are nearly four times the 293 people who signed a petition "to disapprove and reject any and all amendments to the ordinance" that was unanimously approved by votes last year on April 13, May 11 and June 8.

On Wednesday, the day after the council's monthly meeting, the mayor announced that she wants "to be at any special call on the cemetery changes that are proposed. While I do not think a special call is warranted for this particular issue, I cannot meet any day next week due to previous scheduled meetings and personal appointments that I cannot change."

Woods offered several days in the last week of this month when she could attend the meeting and she's been accommodated, but commented thereafter, saying, "I myself wonder and intend to ask how a special call on cemetery policy affects the welfare of the city..."

She opposes having a special meeting "just because you want one," and asked, "What is so important to the 'welfare of the city' that it could not wait to the regular meeting of the council?"

The next regularly scheduled meeting of Lewisburg's Council is May 10, or two days after Mother's Day, the traditional time for Decoration Day at cemeteries in Lewisburg.

Meanwhile comments during the first of two public hearings on the subject have indicated that some people think the issue is related to the election on May 3.

"If somebody votes for somebody on just one issue," said Minor, the only incumbent running for re-election, "that's not good either."

Another aspect of discussion Monday night included questions about whether the proposed ordinance to change cemetery rules could be further amended. In other cities, changes have been made to pending ordinances during any of the three required votes for passage.

"Until an ordinance is passed, you can amend it," Minor said Thursday morning. "At least that's what I've been told."

He declined to name his advisor on that procedural matter, but added that he will make a motion to change what's being considered to make it clear that flowers in urns and so-called "saddles" for other decorations would be permitted on headstones.

The council meets on the second floor of City Hall, 131 E. Church St., across the street from the county jail.