Buckley City Hall issues response to criticism of cemetery operation | Letter to the Editor

Editor’s note: The following is in response to a “letter to the editor” appearing in the June 17 edition of The Courier-Herald. The original letter lodged complaints about operations at Buckley City Cemetery. The city first issued the letter below to the involved citizens and has provided it for publication here.

Dear Ms. Piccone and Ms. Moore:

First and foremost I would like to offer my sincere apologies for the unfortunate circumstances that led to the removal of the items from the gravesites in the city cemetery. I can assure you that this was not motivated by a lack of respect by city employees, but from a set of unfortunate circumstances that in hindsight may have been mitigated, but not prevented.

I fully understand that an explanation will not lessen your anger and grief; nevertheless, I hope that it may help you to understand that the actions taken were not meant to be disrespectful, but were the result of employees attempting to do their jobs per adopted city codes without having the knowledge and history of any past practice by the previous caretaker.

As you are probably aware the city has its operating rules posted prominently at the cemetery entrance. These rules are taken directly from the city’s municipal code which state:

4.28.080 Flower receptacles – Artificial flowers and other artificial items.

Receptacles for cut flowers should be sunk level with the ground to ensure the safety of such articles and to facilitate the cutting of grass from the grave. Artificial flowers and other artificial items will not be allowed to remain on any grave past a normal mowing cycle.

Flowers from funeral services may be left on the grave site for five days following a funeral service. After five days, the displays will be removed and discarded.

Fresh-cut flowers may be displayed at any time provided they are placed in approved vases. Approved vases are those which are set in the concrete foundation surrounding the stone marker, and are designed to provide a flush surface when not in use for flowers. Wilted flowers will be removed and the vase returned to the flush position.

On all federal holidays, flowers and plants may be placed on all markers for a nine-day period. The nine-day period begins Saturday before the holiday and ends the Sunday following the holiday. On the following Monday, all flowers and plants will be removed and discarded. If the flowers and plants are to be saved they must be removed before the nine-day period is over. The city crew will not salvage or store any of the displays they remove.

During winter, flower pots may be left on a marker and discharged at each mowing. The city is not responsible for damage or theft of flowers, plants or containers on the cemetery grounds.

Our cemetery is not large and has a very limited budget with which to maintain the premises, therefore the City Council has adopted these policies in order to aid the city staff in maintaining it because it is extremely time consuming and costly to either temporarily move or mow and weed around items that are left for long periods. These policies are not new but have been in place since the council adopted them in 1991.

Based on my conversations with Ms. Moore on May 28, 2015, it is my understanding that the previous city cemetery caretaker had chosen to not enforce the city’s policies and had allowed the items to be left on the headstones and/or gravesites. However, that individual left the employment of the city in February of this year and did not communicate his past practice to anyone else in the city. Because of the position vacancy the city found it necessary to commit other employees from different departments to bring the cemetery up to a presentable condition for the Memorial Day holiday. These employees were not aware of the previous caretaker’s practice and simply followed the rules as adopted by City Council and removed the items and placed them in the area designated for such as described in the code.

I understand that the city failed to notify everyone prior to this action taking place and I apologize for this, as well. However, even if staff had known about the previous practice it would have been extremely difficult and time consuming to attempt to notify everyone that had any items left in the area.

Ms. Piccone, I cannot begin to express the sympathy that I have for your pain and grief. I can honestly say that I understand. I too lost a child to SIDS and understand the various depths of emotion that accompanies this loss. My son’s gravesite is in my hometown in Illinois and I visit it each time I go back. Even though it has been over 30 years my mother still keeps vigil and places flowers there for every holiday.

In closing I would like to add that as city staff we try to do the very best that we can with what we have, but will still overlook things from time to time. When we do and we are made aware of it, we will attempt to learn from it and make corrections as we go along. In this case I’m not sure that the City Council will desire to change polices, but at the very least we can attempt to do a better job of posting information ahead of time so that there is advance notice of any changes in operations.

Hopefully this letter is received in the same spirit with which it was written. If I can answer any questions or clarify this response in any way, please feel free to contact me at Buckley City Hall. Thank you.

Sincerely,

Dave Schmidt

City Administrator