Wright City public works staff are asking aldermen to set a clear course of action for prohibited decorative items in the city cemetery that create significant impediments to …
Wright City public works staff are asking aldermen to set a clear course of action for prohibited decorative items in the city cemetery that create significant impediments to groundskeeping.
Public Works Director Kyle Roettger asked the board of aldermen in September for clarification on how to enforce a city ordinance restricting unauthorized cemetery decorations such as benches, statues and free-standing flower hangers. Although Roettger wishes to be respectful to families, he said the items can create time-consuming obstructions for mowing and maintenance, and can even introduce the risk of some accidents when working around them.
“I’m all for people paying respect to loved ones – I’ve got loved ones there myself – but not when it goes against city ordinance,” said Roettger. “It’s not only hindering the perpetual care that we provide, it’s also endangering myself and my coworkers.”
Last year, aldermen passed an ordinance stating that most forms of permanent cemetery decorations are banned. In October 2020, Roettger’s team cleared all such items from the cemetery, stored them and contacted the appropriate families to pick up their items. Instead of taking those items home, several families moved them right back to the cemetery.
No further action has been taken since, and thus obstructions in the cemetery remain a frustrating issue for city maintenance staff.
Roettger reintroduced the issue to aldermen during a Sept. 23 public meeting, showing them a photo of a new grave at the cemetery where an elaborate set of decoratoins had been brought in.
Aldermen debated how to tactfully remove the unauthorized items and prevent new ones from being placed.
“I would expect that stuff to come down. ... We just have to follow city ordinances,” Alderman Ramiz Hakim stated flatly. He said the city just needs to have a clear procedure of how to go about respectfully removing items.
City Administrator Jim Schuchmann replied that he can develop a respectful form letter to notify a family any time an item needs to be removed, and then give them some time to remove the items on their own before having city staff do it.
But Alderman Michelle Heiliger countered that the city needs to do a better job of making people informed before the problem ever occurs.
“Here’s the challenge: How do we communicate to people, when they’re going to bury someone, that ‘here are the regulations’?” Heiliger asked, commenting that if families don’t know the rules ahead of time, it sets them up for an upsetting situation.
“If I had gone out and purchased something to put on (my husband’s) grave, and you called me a week later and told me, ‘Come get it or we’re going to throw it away,’ that would gut me,” she said.
Heiliger suggested working with funeral homes to make sure cemetery rules are made known before a family goes through the trouble and expense of buying gravesite decorations. She said that would alleviate much conflict.
Aldermen eventually settled on a ‘both/and’ resolution to the issue – coordinate with funeral directors before any new burial, and take respectful action for any violations that do occur.