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Citizens voice grievances about cemeteries

As the three-minute timer clicked down, concerned citizens voiced their opinions about the cemetery ordinance to Madison City Council. RECORD PHOTOS/GREGG L. PARKER
As the three-minute timer clicked down, concerned citizens voiced their opinions about the cemetery ordinance to Madison City Council. RECORD PHOTOS/GREGG L. PARKER

MADISON – A large audience assembled with Madison City Council on March 14 to voice opinions about an ordinance affecting city cemeteries.

Approved in February 2015, Ordinance No. 2015-50 required removal of items, such as solar lights, concrete benches and figures, hanging decorations, lawn furniture and vases. This ordinance required posting of informative signage, posted in October 2015, in Madison’s three city cemeteries.

The city does not charge for perpetual care of cemeteries. Taxpayers pay for expenses.

During public comments, Vickie Morris asked council members to raise their hand if they had a relative buried here. No one raised his or her hand.

Councilman Tommy Overcash later said that all citizen members of Madison Municipal Cemeteries Committee do have relatives interred in city cemeteries.

Morris said the Alabama Historical Commission must approve any work on a historic cemetery. Permits will allow alterations, such as cutting flowers and shrubs or changing fences and decorations.

Jeff Blankenship said the larger problem has been “a disconnect between citizens, mayor and city council.” He suggested inclusion of more residents in decision-making.

Council may have given proper legal notice but didn’t “reach out” to family members, Blankenship said. He suggested a city-maintained roster of families for the cemeteries. He suggested outsourcing mowing.

“The city received historic status for the cemetery. What makes a historic cemetery? The uniqueness of it,” Blankenship said.

Numerous markers and plaques for veterans’ graves were damaged or have disappeared, Blankenship said.

Brian Landrum said the cemetery work “is one of the saddest things that has been done in Madison.” Landrum asked for an apology from Councilman Gerald Clark for his comments about the ordinance.

“It’s heart-wrenching to see the little children’s trucks and cars (removed). I understand Madison is growing but this is the founders that made this city what it is,” Amanda Turner said.

“On behalf of cemetery committee (and as liaison to council), we never intended to hurt anyone’s feelings. I want to extend my apology,” councilman Gerald Clark said.

Council President Tim Holcombe said council organized Madison Municipal Cemeteries Committee in June 2013. The group has met monthly. In recent years, the city has improved parking and landscaping at Madison Memory Gardens and installed a sidewalk and arches at Old Madison Cemetery.

Discussion will continue when the cemetery committee meets on March 29 at City Hall.

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