Thursday, March 11, 2010
Air clears about cemetery operations
By SUE WATSON
About 50 citizens who do not want big changes in the way the historic Hill Crest Cemetery operates had their voices heard at last week’s Holly Springs Board of Alderman meeting.
Lois Swaney-Shipp, curator of the Marshall County Historical Museum, was selected as spokesperson to address the issue of repairing and reopening the front gate. She said she wants the gate repaired in time for Pilgrimage. The gate was closed to traffic by Mayor Andre’ DeBerry, who cited potential liability problems created when the gate post was damaged. The gate has been closed for nearly a year to traffic.
DeBerry, also explained to the group that the repair of the gate is taking time because the means of repair has to be approved by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
One person, Carole Robinson, said she felt the mayor might be dragging his feet on getting the gate repaired, but DeBerry said not so.
Shipp argued that calls to Archives and History should be made to speed things up.
“I’m here about the cemetery,” she said. “We want it back like it used to be. A vast amount of people are coming in 45 days (Pilgrimage) and we want to get it fixed. We need to start on it tomorrow.”
She suggested replacing any unsafe gates, but DeBerry assured her the city cannot do anything to the cemetery without clearance through Archives and History because of its historic designation.
His office has run into stumbling blocks each time it has sent the information required to the state, such as photos of the damage, scope of the work and quotes from brick masons, he said.
Shipp said Archives is waiting on the mayor to complete a restoration grant totaling about $300,000.
DeBerry tried to make it clear the gate repair is a separate issue and not included in the restoration project which would pay for cleaning of stones.
“Let’s use city money to fix it,” Shipp said.
“We have quotes from a brick mason and are waiting for a notice to proceed,” DeBerry said.
“Well, I’ll call him (the contact at Archives) in the morning, then,” Shipp said.
“If you have the ability to bring pressure to Archives and History, we welcome it,” DeBerry said.
Shipp said big construction trucks shouldn’t go through the front gate - only cars.
“They (trucks) can go in the end,” she said.
Focusing on other solutions to gate repair, Robinson suggested an expert brick mason who could provide a quote.
“We don’t have to change it, but fix it,” she said.
DeBerry clarified that there appears to be an assumption by the community that the city government does not want the gate repaired.
“Not that, I just think you are dragging your feet on it,” Robinson said.
“I have to do what is required of me,” DeBerry said.
“I’m not questioning that,” Robinson said. “We’ll get you a bid.”
J.R. Dunworth asked what would happen if the city repaired the gate without a notice to proceed from Archives and History.
DeBerry advised against the idea.
“Any good stone mason can do it,” Dunworth said.
Attorney Ki Jones stepped in, saying the state has to be involved.
Dunworth suggested putting up pipes in front of the columns to block any vehicle from striking the gate posts before the gate is reopened.
At this juncture, alderman Russell Johnson suggested forming an advisory group to work with City Hall on cemetery matters in the future.
DeBerry said a committee had been formed to advise on concerns.
“We have a group working on that and have already met your concerns,” he said.
Alderman Calvin James said organizing an advisory committee at this juncture would only cause more delay.
“If a phone call will do it, I think we should do it. It’s the city’s intention to expedite the work,” he said.
DeBerry named Shipp and Bobbie Joe Mitchell as two who had served as advisors.
DeBerry then said the headline in the (February 25) story in The South Reporter was not correct. He said the fee schedule was a request from Larry Miller, building and grounds supervisor.
Carey Crain then said she does not want to have to park and walk to gravesites.
DeBerry said the department head had looked at a new fee structure.
“I’m not worried about that,” Crain said.
DeBerry said he has suggested modifications in the road could be made to provide traffic flow from below at the Maury Street entrance, and circle back down and out from the top of the first cross drive and leaving through a new exit that could be built on Maury. The modifications would stop vehicles from damaging stones and gravesites, he said.
“Not every cemetery has total driver access,” he said.
The audience vocalized disbelief at his statement about access.
DeBerry asked for respect while he finished making his rebuttal so his position could be understood.
Access to the hearse and funeral director and families would be available during funerals, he said.
“Do we need to access every point in the cemetery by car?” he asked. “How can we control a respectful and sacred place.”
Alderman Garrie Colhoun said the paper quoted him correctly about access to very old cemeteries that have more narrow streets than at Hill Crest.
One of the largest in the country, Hollywood, has five U.S. presidents interred, as well as Union and Confederate troops, and has a plan for all one-way traffic, a 10 MPH speed limit and the cemetery is accessible by vehicle, he said.
“The gates are locked at dark and open at daylight,” he said. “A lot of our vandalism happens at night. I don’t think citizens would oppose repairing the gates and locking them at dark and opening at daylight.
“It would be asinine to tell folks you are not going to have access during daylight. I can’t see that happening.”
DeBerry said he had not suggested limiting access but people could enter off Maury and come to a point. A plan to route traffic up the hill from Maury from the east, take a left, then turn back east and exit at another gate to be installed off Maury was a suggestion to maintain access.
The basic reason for a cemetery is for interment, he said.
Colhoun asked for the idea to be added to Johnson’s motion as a long-range plan for traffic flow.
“I think it’s a great suggestion,” he said.
“I think we have it in place already,” DeBerry said.
At this juncture Mary Walker Gatewood spoke about what she thinks is the community’s real issue.
“Mr. Mayor, what really brought us up here was we would have a parking lot and be transported by golf carts,” she said.
“I merely stated to the board how to transport a person who is physically impaired,” he said. “The golf cart was just a suggestion.”
“Well, you are looking at one and I wouldn’t want to ride in a golf cart,” Gatewood said. “I wanted to clarify that you are not arbitrarily making a parking lot and adding golf carts.”
Alderman Johnnie Bagley asked who else was serving on the advisory committee and Bud Holbrook said he was on the committee when the idea to build kiosks was being bantered about.
DeBerry explained that the idea of having kiosks was to provide a way for visitors to locate a historic gravesite (via computer).
James said he believes to develop an advisory committee would interfere with the decisions of the building and grounds director. If such a committee is formed, he thinks it should be chaired by the director.
Gatewood said the community is not asking to be in charge. The committee would be advisory.
“That was not Mr. Johnson’s recommendation to put a committee over the cemetery,” she said. “He (Larry Miller) should be on the committee.”
DeBerry said groups can give recommendations now and Johnson suggested deciding on the committee later.
“Let’s just start with the gate,” said Shipp.
Someone who was not identified said, “I think what everybody wants is to get the gate fixed, have it drivable, and have it the way it is. The majority of people want to have gates fixed and have it where you can drive through.”
John Paul Carpenter said the cemetery is the main tourist attraction in Holly Springs and some of the tourism tax dollars could be used to care for the cemetery.
The mayor explained that tourism tax goes specifically to pay off the bond on the Multi-Purpose Building and to support the tourism bureau. None of those dollars go into the general fund and therefore the mayor and board have no call on how it is spent, he said.
The increase in fees for burial plots and opening and closing graves was meant to help pay for costs of upkeep, he said.
Bill Kemp asked if the streets are dedicated and would closing streets be a matter of abandoning streets or imminent domain.
Jones said it would be a matter for the board to look into.
Holbrook added that it is on the minutes that the cemetery is to close at 5 p.m.
Carolyn Tyson asked if the members of the committee could be made available so the citizens could let their concerns be known to them “that we don’t want any golf carts in the cemetery.”
With this said, this portion of the meeting was brought to an orderly conclusion.
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