Complaints bring action on cemeteryTom Gelineau has a ready answer when asked about complaints at Lakeview Cemetery in Two Harbors.
Tom Gelineau has a ready answer when asked about complaints at Lakeview Cemetery in Two Harbors.
“It’s a mess,” the city’s public works director said.
He was speaking of the nebulous rules at the cemetery regarding memorials placed on graves – flowers, planter stands, and other materials – that get in the way of the city’s sole responsibility at the grounds, mowing.
Mowers have moved many items, putting them behind a shed, and not told individual caretakers. Some have been lost. Some are assumed stolen. And those finding out, when looking across the cemetery at similar items that have been left in place, are confused by rules that seem to change year to year without notification.
“Some are placed properly and some are not,” Gelineau said. He was referring to flower baskets on the ground, iron hooks planted to hang baskets, and other items that can get in the way of mowing. He said what is moved can depend on who’s doing the work and that the restrictions should be clearer.
“They pick up an item and move it behind a shed when they could have just righted it for mowing,” Kathy Zellers said. She is one of those complaining to the city this summer about unclear rules and practices at the cemetery.
Many people aren’t being told that items have been removed, let alone that they are not allowed, and the city is frustrating them when it doesn’t have explanations.
People from out of town and visiting graves say that without any rules posted, there’s no way to know what is allowed on graves.
“The rules seem arbitrary,” said Lois Lattanzio Marek of Faribault. She wrote a letter to the city last month chronicling her struggle to find out what the city does and doesn’t allow on graves.
She, like others, visited the grave of her mother, father, and sister and discovered that a white cross she had been placing for three years had been removed. She said if there was a change in policy, there was no way of learning about it.
There is a confusing hand-lettered sign behind a building on the grounds but “if you can’t see the sign, you can’t comply,” Lattanzio Marek said.
Her cross and some solar lights are still missing. She wants some answers about what the rules are and whether they are being applied to all the graves in Lakeview.
“It appears the mowing concerns take precedence over family sensitivities,” she wrote in her letter to city council members.
Gelineau said there may have been mistakes made by the new cemetery caretaker, Amy Fabini, in not notifying people about items taken from graves.
Brad Jones, the caretaker before Fabini, said the cemetery is a sensitive place and he appreciated the intense feelings of grief carried by those who tend to graves. He said adding memorial items to graves is a growing trend and the rules around it have to be flexible for changing tastes as more memorials are placed.
“The city has never really set a policy,” Gelineau said. “It’s up to the council to do that.”
The council heard first-hand some of the complaints at a meeting last month. Zellers had “shepherd’s hooks” go missing at her family plots. They hold plants over a gravesite.
She was told that they had been removed when she called the city and that “they must have been stolen,” after she said they couldn’t be found. “What are the rules?” she asked at the July 26 council meeting.
“It upsets me,” she said. “It makes me angry that this is the first time I’ve had nothing on the plots.”
Each plot at Lakeview is considered private property. There is a fee for “perpetual care” of the grounds. The city currently charges $100 per plot sold.
That fee could increase after the discussion the council had before Zellers spoke in July.
City administrator Lee Klein told the council the city can only use the interest gained from the “perpetual care” fund, meaning about $3,000 goes into the general fund annually to cover public works costs associated with the cemetery. Mowing costs up to $1,300 each summer.
If the city wanted to spend more, perhaps for righting the many fallen or near-fallen stones, it would have to hold a levy to do it, Klein said. Righting stones had been a courtesy practice of the city in the past but isn’t officially part of perpetual care. Council members have said many stones need to be righted in the name of public safety.
“It’s going to kill a small child,” said Chris Swanson of the many leaning stones in the cemetery.
Swanson heads up the public affairs committee and the council recommended it take on the issues of clarifying cemetery rules and finding a way to right stones.
No date for a meeting has been set, Swanson said. It only meets as issues come up. He said the top issue will be finding a way to right stones and clean them up in a fair way. He said he would also bring up clarifying the rules and making fixes to the rusting fence that surrounds the cemetery.
“We’ve got to start working on a plan,’ Swanson told the city council in July. “It’s getting bad.”
Zellers offered a set of suggestions to the council, including making a written list of rules available to the public on site and with each plot sale.
She said she wants the city to look at the cemetery as a whole and as the sacred place it is, not just another area to mow.
“The mixed messages I’ve received from staff troubles me,” Zellers said.
“A cemetery isn’t about mowing,” Lattanzio Marek said. “It’s not a park. It’s not a golf course.”