MARY ANN ANDERSON
Last week’s regular meeting of the Hazlehurst City Council brought grave matters to the centerstage at City Hall.
Lois Hutchinson, the daughter of the late Louise Baisden, who is buried at Hazlehurst Memorial Cemetery, spoke to the council about the city’s enforcing its contract with her regarding eight gravesites she bought in March of last year.
Hutchinson, in a well-prepared statement but at times still visibly frustrated, said the contract forbids, among other things, placing trinkets, decorations and other memorabilia at gravesites. She showed the council several photos of gravesites near her mother’s that are crowded with that type of ornamentation. She also pointed out that the contract states only a single flower arrangement can be placed at a gravesite, but other graves had more than one.
“All I’m asking for is the city to uphold the contract or do away with it,” Hutchinson said to the council, further explaining that she wanted to place coping around her plots to help keep at bay some of the décor that flies around the cemetery during storms or windy days, but that coping was also forbidden as per her contract.
Hutchinson also stated that she had tried “several times” to reach out to Mayor R. Bayne Stone and Ward 3 Councilman Eric Griffin by telephone, text and face-to-face meetings to discuss the enforcement of the contract, all to no avail.
City Clerk Vernice Thompson then interjected and read directly to the council portions of the current cemetery ordinance.
“You have one page that says you can have coping, and another that says you can’t,” she said, referring to the ordinance specifically regarding Hazlehurst Memorial Cemetery and calling it a “contradiction of statement.”
Ward 2 Councilman John Ramay then promised Hutchinson that the city would review the contract, address the issues, and then “make it correct” for her.
With Stone allowing that the city had done a “poor job” of enforcing the ordinances and “made a bad mistake” with Hutchinson’s particular case, he apologized, “We are supposed to maintain cemeteries, and we need to correct it, and we’re sorry.”
After Hutchinson left the meeting, Glenn Harris then took the podium. He also referenced the city’s cemetery ordinance, saying that the cemetery at Antioch CME Church at Young Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard has been “disrespected and degraded” by people driving their cars across graves and leaving beer bottles lying around.
But Stone told Harris that Antioch’s cemetery is private property and not city property and that the church needs to maintain it, adding, though, that the city would help fence or protect it.
“My concern is this,” Harris began, “I know people who are buried there, and then to see this done. It’s the community’s responsibility to say something.”
Stone then pointed out that the cemetery is adjacent to Young Street Park, acknowledging, “We have a problem, and we’re all sensible and caring people, and we’ll have to do our best to try to work it out and solve the problems.”
Ward 1 Councilman Dywane Johnson then told Harris that he had spoken with the stewards of the church and they were aware of the issues with the cemetery and cars driving over gravesites.
Stone, alluding to the adage that a good fence makes good neighbors, suggested that the church’s fencing the cemetery would “solve about 99.9 percent of the problem,” but also saying to Harris that the city would have “some responsibility, absolutely” because of the cemetery’s proximity to the park and the safety of those who use it.
In other action during the regular meeting and Monday night’s workshop, the council ….
…. After hearing from Hutchinson and Harris, agreed to suspend the scheduled agenda item of reading the revised cemetery ordinance until further study.
…. Formally set the millage rate for the city at 8 mills, the same as last year.
…. Listened as Johnson explained that a workshop had been scheduled by the Hazlehurst Housing Authority and Hazlehurst Police Department for residents to learn to use the crosswalk to be located at the new traffic signal at the intersection of Highway 341 and Miller Street.
…. Approved a request by Police Chief Ken Williams for a professional grant writer to apply for grants for his department.
…. Heard a request by downtown business owners Rory Chaney and Terri Rush to take ownership of the alley between Railroad and Hinson streets so they can clean it up, have its plumbing issues resolved, add an outdoor seating area and find ways to make it safe for employees who must use it to get to work early. Stone, citing “some legalities to work out,” said that he and City Attorney Ken W. Smith would get to work on the project immediately and “figure out” how to get it done.
…. Discussed but took no formal action on a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) for waterline upgrades and acquiring temporary easements from homeowners for the construction of those lines. The council also briefly discussed but took no vote on a Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA) loan for upgrading city fire hydrants and building of the new waterline that will run to Beasley Forest Products.
…. Approved the appointment of Denise Darley to the seat vacated by Wilhelmina Parrish on the Hazlehurst Housing Authority.
…. Signed a proclamation declaring September as Childhood Cancer and Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG) awareness month.
…. Heard the second reading of and then adopted the revised fire and safety ordinance.
…. Approved Jeff Davis High School’s homecoming parade to be held September 26 at 6 p.m.
…. Approved water and sewer adjustments for the period ending July 30 as well as the August check register and departmental reports.
…. In the Mayor and Councilmen’s Comments section, agreed to but took no formal vote on allowing the vacant City Hall building at the corner of Latimer and South Williams Street to be used by the school system for its annual haunted house that was formerly at the intersection of Pat Dixon Road and Charles Rogers Boulevard. Ramay stated that the city’s insurance agent requested a release of liability from the school to satisfy the city’s insurance company. Fire Chief Charles Wasdin also recommended that for safety reasons only the first floor of the building should be used.
The next regularly scheduled workshop of the Hazlehurst City Council is October 14, with the regular meeting set for October 17. Both meetings are held at 6 p.m. in the conference room at City Hall.