It's an emotional struggle for families involved at the Glasgow Highland Cemetery. The issue is whether standing headstones should be left alone or a city ordinance should be changed to allow standing headstones that have been placed where only flat stones are permitted.
With 44 headstones already standing near the flat stones, it could mean some difficult decisions for the city council.
The cemetery committee met June 10 to discuss the issue with family members and decide on its recommendation to present at the June 16 city council meeting. Initially, the committee decided to recommend working on a proposal to change the city ordinance.
Councilman Rod Karst explained to the city council that they would be looking at a change in ordinance that was proposed in 2003 and in 2008. Karst said at the cemetery committee that this proposal went on to city council but it never moved on from there.
During the committee meeting on June 10, family members discussed issues they had with standing stones. The Trotter family was vocal about following the ordinance and being in compliance with the flat stone section of the cemetery.
Steve Bell, of Bell Mortuary, who was present at the meeting, explained that it was the recommendation of the cemetery committee in 2003 to change the ordinance.
A letter from Jon Bengochea explained the recommendation that upright monuments should be allowed in blocks 1 and 5 through 9 in the second addition to the cemetery, as well as in blocks 3, 5 and 6. A second letter dated in December 2003 from Bengochea also explained that people had complained in the past that they were not allowed to place upright monuments in the cemetery.
The suggestion to go with the change of ordinance proposed in the past would mean that conditions would be placed on upright stones. The 2003 conditions proposed that there must be at least two adjacent lots to have one upright stone, only one stone per family plot would be allowed and individuals would have flat-stones, each upright stone and base would need to be 7 feet from each other, each monument would need to be in line with other headstones, and each monument would be placed on a concrete pad with specific dimensions.
Trotter family members explained that they had followed the ordinance and done their part over the last several decades and they had gone on to speak to a lawyer over the issue. A neighboring family placed a headstone next to their plot, which encroached onto their plot.
Members of that family, the Feda family, came to the meeting and voiced their opinions. They explained that the issue was with the city and not between the families. They didn't speak much, but mentioned to the city that if one stone were to be moved, all 44 headstones would have to be moved.
City Attorney Pete Helland again advised the cemetery committee that the safest legal action for the city would be to change the ordinance. He said it would offer the city greater legal protection. He said making an administrative action, instead of selectively enforcing the current ordinance would allow the city more immunity if legal action were to take place.
Helland advised that in the end it would be up to the city council on what action would take place. He also advised that if the families worked together the issue could be resolved. Helland said they are the only two families he believed had come forward with a complaint. The Fedas stated that they would not be willing to move the stone that is in place.
With the recommendation at the city council meeting on June 16 to move forward with a possible ordinance change, there could be action taking place in the next month to resolve a part of the problem.
"We're not accusing any of the family involved," Karst said. "This is an issue the city needs to look at, now we need to deal with something that's been overlooked, and it's been overlooked 44 times."