More than 250 people have signed a petition to change the City of Great Bend’s policy on Memorial Day decorations, local attorney Brock McPherson told the city council on Monday.
Signs placed in the Great Bend Cemetery and Great Bend Cemetery North in April explain the current policy: “No decorations may be placed on the ground on a gravesite prior to noon on the Thursday preceding Memorial Day.” For 2015, that means Thursday, May 21.
The petition asks for one more week, “beginning at 5 p.m. on the Friday the weekend one week prior to Memorial Day,” which is May 15 this year.
The flowers stay up a week after Memorial Day.
Director of Public Lands Scott Keeler said that flowers on the ground are removed when it’s time to mow. The staff doesn’t disturb flowers in vases or attached containers on stones, he said.
Keeler was named Director of Public Lands on April 6, but has been superintendent of the city’s parks for many years, so he is familiar with the problem. People want the cemeteries to look nice for Memorial Day, which requires mowing. They also want to put out decorations.
“It’s kind of that double-edged sword,” he said.
McPherson has been trying to change the policy since last year, when he decorated his wife’s grave on a Thursday, a week before Memorial Day. The next week, his flowers were gone.
“I reported them stolen,” he said. Then he learned that cemetery staff had removed and thrown away five 55-gallon barrels full of flowers which had been placed on gravesites.
The city council asked the cemetery board to make a recommendation, and on Feb. 26 the board did agree to a recommendation that matched McPherson’s petition. The minutes of that meeting state, “This proposal was made in order to accommodate out of town citizens who wish to decorate graves prior to Memorial Day, making two weekends available to decorate graves.”
However, Human Resources Director Terry Hoff, who was the acting director of public lands until April 6, went to the next cemetery board meeting at the end of March and explained staff concerns. The cemetery board ended up agreeing not to recommend any changes to the city council.
McPherson said the cemetery board didn’t follow Robert’s Rules of Order because the Feb. 26 motion wasn’t rescinded. He was unsuccessful in his attempt to get the issue on the city council agenda for the May 4 meeting.
However, councilman Dana Dawson brought the subject up during the period for council comments, and then McPherson was allowed to speak.
Dawson said the city council should have a say in the policy.
Hoff explained that because the cemetery board did not have a recommendation to change the policy, it was not brought back for council approval.
The Great Bend Tribune contacted Hoff and Justin Engleman, chairman of the cemetery board, on Wednesday. They confirmed what had happened at the March meeting, and Hoff repeated what he told the council on Monday.
“The real issue last year was that we didn’t do as good a job as we should have in notifying the public,” Hoff said. Steps are in place now to adequately spread the word. The signs about Memorial Decorations went up shortly after the March cemetery board meeting, and will stay up until it is time to take the flowers down again.
Hoff also told the Tribune that anyone who needs to place flowers early should talk to someone at the cemetery office.
“We will work with anyone that comes to us and makes that request,” he said.
Like Keeler, Hoff said the intent was to make the cemetery look nice on Memorial Day.
“Our concern was the length of time between mowing,” Hoff said. The city employees aren’t insensitive to the people who want to honor their loved ones, he added. “Everyone cares about that. There’s not a soul here that feels different.”
At Monday’s meeting, City Administrator Howard Partington said he would contact the cemetery board and ask its members to hold an emergency meeting, so they can make a recommendation prior to the next council meeting on May 18.
As of Wednesday afternoon, that meeting had not been scheduled. Engleman told the Tribune he had not be contacted.