PLATTSMOUTH – Heated criticisms of city of Plattsmouth’s disposal of memorial tokens from Oak Hill Cemetery gravesites came to a boil Monday night following a week-long volley of comments on the Town Crier Facebook page.
During the traditional Citizen’s Comment time, more than 12 people addressed Plattsmouth Mayor and City Council April 15 expressing their anger or support for the removal of sacred and sentimental items from the graves of loved ones starting April 6.
The items were thrown into dumpsters in a wood area at the cemetery and by the community center with only a sign designating individuals needed to remove the items by April 1 so grass mowing and weed-eating could start for the spring through fall seasons.
Recommendations ranged from the removal of City Administrator Erv Portis from his position to allowing people to maintain the graves of their beloved family and friends.
Shauna Morehead: “I just don’t think it was handled correctly. My son passed away in 2014. Aaron had several friends and all his friends, in order to accept or acknowledge his death, left things there. We’ve had stuff broken from weed whacking, but we never complained.
A cross, however, adorned his headstone and it, too, was removed and discarded, she said.
Morehead: “It was personal, sacred and should have been left alone.”
Morehead volunteered to “step up” and maintain her son’s gravesite.
Many others echoed Morehead’s sentiments about the removal of the items.
Jamie Lesley: “What was done at the cemetery was a disgrace.”
Lesley noted items from veterans’ graves were also removed and thrown into the trash. She recommended the council use of a personal property care agreement she authored enabling family members to maintain the gravesites.
Lesley: “Several people are willing to take care of their own graves so that this will never happen again.”
Karen Johnson said her son passed away in 2006.
Johnson: “We sought approval to erect a pole by his headstone and set a small statue on the headstone not touching the grass. The angel was taken off the headstone and thrown somewhere.”
Richard Hughes said the city followed a precedent the past 15 years of not removing the items. He urged the cemetery board members to mediate between citizens and city council regarding the cemetery upkeep but was concerned that the cemetery board was disbanded and that other boards had been disbanded during Portis’ watch.
Lambert: “It was not disbanded. They have chosen not to meet.”
Hughes: “The city administrator is over every board in the city. It’s time to remove the city administrator. Maybe if he lived in the city, he would have a better understanding of what the citizens needed. I’s not an elected position. The mayor and city council cam remove the city administrator.”
Linda Todd especially criticized the lack of communication between the city and citizens.
Todd: “We should have figured out a way to inform the public. You discussed this last fall and you didn’t find a way to inform the public about enforcing the policy. ‘Sorry’ doesn’t cut it this time.”
Todd noted many American flags adorning the graves were also removed and thrown away. “There were things put there e10 years ago, things on my grandparents and great-grandparents headstones. I’d like to know what’s next.”
Anne Colvin-Dudek warned the council the situation would not be readily forgotten.
Colvin-Dudek: “This is not acceptable at all. Every single one of you will be held accountable. This is your responsibility to care for the citizens. We pay for the maintenance and we pay for the plots. People will not forget this.”
Jamie Kincaid, however, argued that the rules had been in place for many years and that no one on the council intended for the items to be disrespectfully broken and thrown away.
Kincaid: “If the police start enforcing the rules about speeding in front of the schools, are you going to be mad? We just need to make sure communication gets out. If you need another board, volunteer to be on the board. Instead of being angry, go out and clean it up.”
Lambert said that maintaining the cemetery has always been a challenge, but the spring rains last year made mowing and weed removal especially difficult last year.
Lambert: “Last year was less than successful and I heard about it. Last summer we brought in other city employees working on the parks and they went into the maintenance role at the cemetery.”
The mayor promised to improve communication in the future.
Lambert: It’s time for us to learn and move forward in a positive way.”
He appointed city council members Jeanne Brookhauser, Steve Riese and Morgan Muller to serve on a special committee.
Lambert: “The committee will listen to any reasonable concerns. We will be looking over the rules.”
Portis admitted he should have done a better job of communicating with the public regarding the issue.
Portis: I have no desire, no intent to cause anyone any grief. Our goal is to be responsible for these. Herein lies an opportunity. The cemetery board has been inactive. So yes, we have an opportunity to study all the issues. I didn’t communicate it well. That’s my fault and no one else’s fault.”