Headstone Debate At Highland Cemetery
Concerns About Flat or Standing Headstones Emotional For Some
It's been brought up at Glasgow City Council meetings for the last three or four meetings. The city cemetery committee has been dealing with a delicate problem that came to their attention in recent years.
At the March 17 council meeting the committee reported to the council that issues with a section of Highland Cemetery that was never supposed to have standing headstones had more than 40 standing of them. The city ordinance was not followed as family members buried their loved ones next to flat stones.
At the meeting, the committee reported that some of the family members and loved ones were told the city ordinance would be changing. While standing stones were placed, the ordinance wasn't enforced. The issue with the section of the cemetery in Glasgow has to do with those standing stones encroaching on the lots next to them.
“It's emotional when dealing with family members, parents and grandparents,” Mayor Becky Erickson said at the March 17 meeting.
The committee continued to try and work with family members on the issue. City Attorney Pete Helland also worked on possible solutions with family members who were upset over encroachments. The cemetery committee met on Monday, May 12, to discuss the problem with the city attorney and Ben Trotter, a family member who expressed concerns.
Erickson apologized for the non-compliance with the ordinance. She explained that either way they tried to solve the problem, some families would be hurt or offended but they were trying to solve the issue. The city is exploring the option of changing the ordinance to allow standing stones, but Trotter was not in full agreement with the change, as his father had a flat stone, with another standing stone encroaching on the plot.
“It doesn't look right and it should be rectified,” he said by phone at the cemetery committee meeting. “I don't want anything changed, but I want it free and clear so we can visit.”
Helland explained that the city was in a lose-lose situation over the issue. He said that someone would probably be angry no matter which way they approached the issue. The city could either enforce the ordinance after several stones had been placed, which could be costly, or change the ordinance, which would upset those, like the Trotters, with standing headstones next to flat stones.
Trotter added at this point that changing the ordinance could open a can of worms, as those who complied with the original ordinance of flat stones followed.
“The whole thing is a mess,” Trotter said. “To allow it to go this far... is a mess.”
He questioned about possible actions toward the local mortuary, but Erickson explained that they can't point fingers because the city allowed for the ordinance to be breached. Trotter said that he couldn't speak for all the families involved, but he did want to advocate for those who wanted the ordinance to remain and move forward.
Rod Karst, city council member and chair of the cemetery committee, said that the next step would be to visit with other family members.The thought of inviting family members to the next committee meeting was suggested to help the city resolve the issues at hand.
“Are we going to continue putting uprights in?” council member Dan Carr asked.
Erikson and the caretaker of Highland Cemetery, Dan Miller, said that at this point upright stones would be held off. Miller added that some bases for headstones had been placed but the headstones were not placed. Miller also mentioned a letter dated in 2003 that the cemetery committee would allow uprights as the ordinance would be changing. He added that nothing was ever done after that time, but standing stones were place.
City Clerk-Treasurer Stacey Amundson said that she went through 10 years of minutes searching for records and nothing was found. Miller said he told the local mortuary in 2003 that there was an ordinance, and it replied that the ordinance would be changed.
Helland explained that if the city decided to enforce the ordinance it would mean going back and correcting the situation with the gravestones or moving loved ones to areas in the cemetery that allowed uprights.
“Either we have and enforce the ordinance, or we change it,” Helland said.
Bell Mortuary was contacted, but said in a statement that it was not part of the issue, it sold the stones, and it was told the issues were resolved and there were no further problems. They had no further comment on the issue.
To help with future communication with all mortuaries, the city council approved a notice of burial for the cemetery – allowing time and notice on burial information and giving the city records in the future if a problem would arise.