By Daniel Thompson
Reporter 

Standing room only at July 30 meeting of the Kimball Cemetery Board as citizens voice their anger over recent policy enforcement

 

Daniel Thompson

Mayor James Schnell speaks at the July 30 meeting of the Kimball Cemetery Board. At the meeting, Schnell claimed responsibility for the recent enforcement of cemetery policies, saying, “I’ll take the heat, because it’s who I hire and put in place to uphold the rules. When I take office, I put my hand up and swear to uphold the rules and regulations of the city.”

There was a great deal of tension at the Kimball Cemetery Board meeting in the City Council Chamber the night of July 30, as residents sat in eager anticipation for their moment for their voices to be heard on how they feel about the recent maintenance at the Kimball Cemetery.

Chairman Pat Sibal opened the meeting at 5:30 p.m., and after a brief statement from Mayor James Schnell, the floor was opened to the public.

“I moved here just about five years ago. I’ve lived in four different states, and I’ve never seen something like this. I want to know what you’re going to do to change it,” one local resident said, referring to the state of the cemetery.

City Administrator Daniel Ortiz responded to the resident’s statements by explaining that the city is simply doing the best with what it has.

“We have a very lean staff to maintain six acres of property and do all the work that we need to and be able to mow and trim properly. That’s a big concern financially,” Ortiz said.

Concerning the emotional response of the public to flowers and military markers being taken off the graves, Ortiz declared that it is his job to ensure that current policies are being enforced.

“The rules have been in place for a long time. If they have been overlooked in the past and set aside, that isn’t something that needs to be done administratively. Policy set forth by prior members of the board and any changes to that need to go before this board. My responsibility is to ensure that the policy is being carried out,” Ortiz said.

His statements did little to quell the passions of the community members present at the meeting, as another member of the community pointed out that it is not a financial issue.

“I don’t understand how that has to do with anything financial. We pay for the decorations. We put them out there. Why did this happen? Why did you just strip it completely empty and not let anyone know what you did with our belongings?” the resident said.

Ortiz once again explained the limited manpower to take care of the cemetery.

“During the mowing season from the end of spring to the beginning of the fall, that’s when we have the bulk of our maintenance to do. Like I said before, this year we only have one and a half employees to get around to that site,” Ortiz said.


Though residents attended the meeting to ask the board to change the current enforcement of the rules and regulations, Chairman Sibal made it clear to the public that the Cemetery Board did not have full power to change the rules at the meeting and were not even aware of the city’s decision to enforce the rules in the matter that they did.

“The board was kind of found out about a lot of this after the fact,” Sibal said.

When asked why the city did not notify residents, Ortiz referred to an ad that had been placed in the paper prior to Memorial Day informing residents that items would be removed. However, both members of the public and Cemtery Board member Ron Scott expressed that the notice was not an effective way to address the issue by the city.

“Personally, I believe that the ad in the paper was insufficient for what was done. I will make a suggestion next board meeting that we request the city to place that type of notice in along with your utility bill. That way there will be no confusion,” Scott said.

Though Scott’s words received applause from the assembled crowd, the room feel silent again as Peggy Sanders told the board of the negligence that had been shown to the plot belonging to Bev Wilson and her husband.

“She went out Sunday and their headstone was knocked off of the seal and moved about 7 or 8 inches. She wasn’t notified. There are tire marks on the cement on Wilson’s grave. We did call the city police force and Captain Godden took pictures. Mrs. Wison got a call last night that it was hit by one of the mowers. Why wasn’t she informed that it had happened?” Sanders said.

The shocked silence of the crowd turned to silent tension as former Kimball Cemetery Caretaker and current Manager of the Kimball Recycle Center Spud Rowley stood up to tell the board what he thought of the current condition of the cemetery he worked so hard to maintain for 14 years.

“We can say it’s maintenance. We can say it’s budget. We made the rules and regulations and the policies as a board and as the caretaker’s discretion. For the last 14 and a half years, there hasn’t been a problem with the maintenance of it. To actually make it forceful and do what you guys did, it’s wrong. Everything in the book over the last 14 and a half years, believe me I tried. There is one thing I didn’t. I didn’t just go out there and clean house,” Rowley said. “It’s the caretakers discretion if the stuff is in line with the markers and monuments. If I did it for 14 and a half years with the little help I got, Why isn’t it being done now?”

Rowley also pointed out the tools that were at the city’s disposal to take care of the weeding and tall grass within the cemetery.

“Is it really going to come down to blaming it on some maintenance stuff? There’s $6,000 of chemicals that were sitting in the garage. There shouldn’t be a weed in the curb. There’s plenty to keep it green. The displacement of the flowers and the vases that some have commented that they can’t even get out of the ground is still wrong. I don’t go out there much anymore, but I appreciate actually what we have and what I made it to be,” Rowley said.

Soon after Rowley finished speaking, many members started asking who it was that gave the order for the rules to be enforced so forcefully in the city office and who was truly responsible for the decorations being discarded.

Despite a previous statement given to this paper by Ortiz that it had been at his order, it was Mayor James Schnell who stepped forward to take the responsibility for the manner the policies and rules were recently carried out.

“I’ll take the heat, because who I hire and put in place to uphold the rules. When I take office, I put my hand up and swear to uphold the rules and regulations of the city. We already lost our landmark in downtown Kimball because we weren’t enforcing codes. All the rules need to be followed. That is a rule. I’m telling people to follow the rules,” Schnell said.

Though there are rules in place and understandably must be followed by city employees, one person in the crowd spoke out saying that the rules and the treatment of the cemetery plots ignore a key aspect to maintaining graves: respect.

“Some people have a little respect for older people that have passed away that spent their whole time with this community, this town. Maybe you guys should have a little more respect too,” the resident said.

After the public finished with their comments, Cemetery Board member Keith Jones made a motion that the current enforcement of the rules be suppressed and that residents would be able to place flowers and decorations around the graves in the cemetery again until the night of the City Council meeting on August 22nd at which time a final decision will be made as long as they stay within the headstone area and the vases.

The motion was unanimously approved.

However, the decision by the board will have no effect until it is acted upon by the City Council at their next meeting August 6, leaving the current policies regarding the cemetery in place until that time.

The Cemetery Board will next meet August 12 to consider changes to the rules and regulations based on the public comments received at the meeting and also to accept further comments on what changes should be made with the final decision on future rules and regulations.

“A lot of this stuff was put in place before any of us knew about it, and we’re the ones dealing with it. We apologize for offending anybody. That wasn’t the intent,” Chairman Sibal said. “We’re going to try to redo this if we can and get it down to where we can appease the most people.”

Daniel Thompson

There was scarcely a seat to be found at the Kimball Cemetery Board meeting Tuesday night, as residents attended to voice their concerns over recent decisions.

 

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