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City to form committee for ‘direction’ on cemetery

By Bob Buckel | Published Wednesday, June 12, 2013

What to pick up, and what to leave?

The Decatur cemetery board and city council are looking for some input on that question when it comes to the Oaklawn and Sand Hill cemeteries.

On May 17 the city-owned cemeteries posted notices pointing out that existing rules forbid the placement of “decorative items such as benches, seats, lights, chimes, toys, carpet, etc. that impede or prevent the mowing or maintenance of the cemetery.”

The notice, which was posted to give people time to remove those items themselves, said city maintenance crews would start removing what was left on June 14 – this Friday – and that such items would not be returned.

Monday night, the city council put a hold on that.

As a result, the city will appoint a committee to listen to the public, get input, and offer the cemetery board “direction” on just how far to go in enforcing those rules.

“Obviously, protection of the public welfare, safety and health is the main driver,” city manager Brett Shannon said. “There are things out there that mowing crews could run over and hit and produce shrapnel. That’s one thing.

“But when you get to things like benches, where do you draw the line?”

Shannon noted the issue has been in the newspaper since the signs were put up, and has prompted some comment from the public.

“There has been some cleaning done,” he said. “I was out there this afternoon and it does look better than it did a couple of weeks ago. There’s still quite a bit of stuff out there.

“But before the crews go out there and just start picking up everything off of the cemetery lots, we thought we’d bring it to the council’s attention and see if you had any thoughts or ideas on how you wanted us to proceed. Obviously there’s probably some common sense things that need to go into this.”

He pointed out that although the policy says benches are prohibited, there are numerous benches on plots that have become a permanent part of the landscape.

“We have the gamut of everything from a picnic table to a $20,000 granite bench,” he said. “We were just a little bit hesitant to go and start picking those granite benches up. That’s the purpose of this agenda item tonight.”

Shannon said the issue touches a nerve among those who have loved ones at the cemetery.

“Obviously it’s an emotional issue when you start doing things with people’s grave sites,” he said. “We’re trying to be sensitive to not only the folks who have family members buried out there, but to potential future families as well. It’s kind of an emotional, sensitive issue. We just didn’t want to stir up World War III if we didn’t have to.”

Mayor Martin Woodruff said councilmembers Cary Bohn and Susan Cocanougher had both agreed to serve on the committee.

“My thinking was, it might be timely for us at this point to see about appointing a committee to study this, get some additional input from those concerned, members of the public and especially those who have sites at the cemetery,” he said.

The committee’s task will be to “take the set of rules and regulations we’ve got – most of which are probably good to continue – but see if there’s any fine-tuning, maybe perhaps improved wording, to make sure we end up with a cemetery that meets the mission we would want a cemetery in our community to meet.

“It might be a good idea to go through that kind of a due process to make sure we’ve got the best set of rules and regulations we can come up with, taking all these different things into account … making sure we’re mindful of the purposes the cemetery serves to a community like ours.

“There’s a wide variety of folks and people and cultures and all that are going to be represented in both of those cemeteries, going forward.”

Councilmember Jason Wren suggested city crews be directed to “suspend any enforcement” until the committee has a chance to meet and report to the council.

“I think some clarity on the wording may be needed,” Wren said. “It doesn’t actually say all benches are prohibited – it says anything that prevents mowing or maintenance is prohibited. I guess that’s just up to the discretion of the maintenance guys out there. I think we probably just need a little more direction, maybe tweak some of that wording.”

Shannon agreed.

“Obviously we don’t have a problem picking up wilted flowers, rusted pieces of metal,” he said. “It was just the more permanent type things that we were a little hesitant without at least getting your input.

“We can go ahead and do some of these things, but we just didn’t want to start clearing every lot of everything until we at least had this opportunity tonight for y’all to think about it and give a little direction. Whatever y’all want to do, we’ll do.”

Councilmember Jay Davidson said once the rules have been “tweaked” they need to be enforced.

“I agree with the approach,” he said. “I think we need to definitely go over the rules and make sure they meet the needs for every individual, but we also do need to make sure we enforce those guidelines once we come to that.

“You’ve got people out there who want to go have a peaceful time and others that their thing may be doing something different. We need to try to approach it the best way we can for everybody concerned.”

The motion was for city staff to put together a committee to meet as often as needed, allow for public input, and report back to the council.

OTHER ACTION

Other than that, the council’s agenda was fairly short and straightforward.

They also:

  • adopted a resolution to extend a rate review mechanism agreement with Atmos Energy that prevents the utility from having to seek approval from the city council in every city they serve for every rate request;
  • decided to consider appointing a member to the board of directors for the Wise County Appraisal District, replacing Joey Luttrull, who resigned, and act on that at their June 24 meeting;
  • approved a request from the Decatur Lions’ Club to have a 5K race in conjunction with the Chisholm Trail Steak Challenge on Sept. 28 at the Reunion Grounds at Joe Wheeler Park;
  • approved minutes and paid bills.

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