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Oak Harbor's Maple Leaf Cemetery concerns: employees, flag, flowers, stones, statues
Armed with apologies for what they call unofficial policies and practices at Maple Leaf Cemetery and with an attorney alongside them, the two remaining commissioners for Island County Cemetery District 1 held a special board meeting at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post in Oak Harbor March 30.
Just over a dozen people were on hand to watch board members Bob Little and Ann Abrahamse increase the number of board meetings each month and deal with issues arising following the suspension of Maple Leaf Cemetery’s three employees. Attorney Rod Kaseguma, of the Bellevue law firm of Inslee Best, explained his role and that of the Cemetery District commissioners.
“I’m here to make sure the commissioners run the meeting smoothly and according to state law,” Kaseguma said. “The commissioners must govern the district according to state law. That also means the commissioners control the way the cemetery is run and have the authority to direct its employees.”
Holding public comments until the end, commissioners quickly moved through several points on the agenda, most notably calling for an increase to the board’s regular meeting schedule. Instead of meeting once a month, commissioners will now meet twice a month. Meetings will be held at 1 p.m. at the VFW on the first and third Wednesdays of each month.
Commissioners also discussed contracts for cemetery maintenance and a contract for accounting and clerical services.
“We are working on the contract for maintenance,” said Abrahamse. “We have temporary maintenance in place, we’re holding funerals and burials, but I would like to make a motion to table this until next Wednesday, when I’ve had a chance to do more research.”
Only one person from the audience spoke up when commissioners confirmed the cemetery’s three employees remain on unpaid administrative leave, simply asking commissioners, “Why?”
Commissioner Little continued without answering, saying they had asked the employees for the combination to the safe, but that they had not been given the information.
“Why don’t you take it up with the former employees?” asked the unidentified woman.
“That’s what we’re trying to do,” Little said.
“We can’t open the safe without the combination,” said Abrahamse. “Everybody has hunted high and low for it and no one has been able to find it. I make a motion that we contact the former employees’ attorney to request that information again.”
When the meeting was opened up for public comment, Skip Johnson was the first to speak, asking several questions.
“First, why don’t you just hire a locksmith to open the safe? What is the policy about removing flowers that aren’t the appropriate color? Why are the flags being removed from the holders? And why isn’t the main flag flying?”
Little said they had not hired a locksmith because they were trying not to incur the cost if the combination was available. Abrahamse said there was no formal policy she was aware of that restricts the color of flowers and apologized to Johnson, who claimed red, white and blue flower arrangements he had placed on a gravesite had been removed because they “were not in season.”
“This was a veteran’s grave,” Johnson said. “Red, white and blue are always in season for veterans.”
What seemed most disturbing to those in attendance, however, was the treatment of the cemetery’s special occasion flag, presented to Maple Leaf in May, 2011 by the American Legion.
“The flags have been located, organized and refolded,” said Abrahamse. “The main flag was found crumpled in a ball on the bottom shelf in the store room.”
(When contacted after the meeting, American Legion Post Commander Lenord Little said that because it doesn’t appear the flag has touched the ground, it can be flown again.)
Laurie Croan asked commissioners why she was unable to use the provider of her choice to purchase her mother’s headstone.
“I was told if I didn’t use one of your providers, then the cemetery was under no obligation to maintain the stone,” Croan said.
“This is a community cemetery. It is owned by you,” Abrahamse said, indicating audience members. “You can use whatever provider you want, you can go anywhere you want. I’m so sorry.”
“That is a policy to be made by the commissioners,” said Kaseguma. “If there is no policy in effect, you shouldn’t have been told that.”
Only one other person spoke up, asking commissioners what they intend to do about the seat vacated by longtime cemetery commissioner Jim Flowers, who resigned his position following a reported altercation with Mike Dougliss, suspended cemetery manager, March 14.
“We have 90 days to find a suitable replacement,” said Little. “If we can’t find one, then the state has 180 days to appoint someone.”
“Would you like to apply?” asked Abrahamse, drawing a laugh from the crowd.
When the meeting adjourned, Abrahamse immediately went to Croan, who had been moved to tears during the meeting. Croan said she had been trying to place the headstone at her mother’s grave for a year.
“I just want a resolution,” said Croan, who explained she had just purchased headstones for her grandparents at another cemetery and was not unfamiliar with the process. “I was told I could only order a stone through them, so I ordered a custom stone. They lost the file, and when the stone came in, it was wrong. This has been going on for a year and there’s still no stone.
“What happened to me should not have happened,” she continued. “What if it had been somebody else who has no clue? And what are you going to do -— argue with them when you’re trying to bury your mom?”
Abrahamse said they are also hoping to find the homes of nearly three dozen statues that have been removed from gravesides. The statues were found in a corner of the staging area and commissioners have no idea where they belong.
“Some got removed, some didn’t. That’s what the commissioners are trying to sort out,” Abrhamse said. “When they were removed, they were taken off a stone that had a name on it, but none of them were marked.”
Service Alternatives is providing groundskeeping at no charge to the cemetery until things are sorted out. Abrahamse said what appears to be long overdue maintenance has been performed around the flat headstones.
“Some of them were so overgrown you couldn’t even read the names,” said Abrahamse. “It’s improved from two weeks ago. It will be beautiful this spring, I promise.”