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Oak Harbor cemetery board buries the hatchet, employees return

A disturbance that caused a small but grave uprising at Oak Harbor’s Maple Leaf Cemetery has been put to rest.

Two of the three employees who were fired earlier this month are back at work and a new commissioner has been appointed to replace one who resigned last month.

In contrast to the last three meetings, the Wednesday afternoon meeting of the board of commissioners for Island County Cemetery District 1 was completely without contention. Michael Dougliss, the longtime supervisor of the cemetery, was back at work along with his wife, Joan, who will continue as a bookkeeper.

Another face from the past was also at the table. The commissioners appointed Dur Roberson to the position vacated by Commissioner Jim Flowers. Roberson had been a cemetery commissioner for nearly 20 years before he lost in the last election to Bob Little.

The commissioners delayed adoption of the new contracts with Dougliss, his wife and a young man who will also work as a caretaker. The Douglisses previously worked as cemetery employees, but now will be contract workers. Commissioner Ann Abrahamse said having contractors with clearly defined duties should alleviate any problems in the future.

Dougliss said he was very happy to be back after three weeks off.

“I don’t think retirement is for me,” he said. “I missed the cemetery tremendously. It’s not just a job, it’s a way of life. It’s part of me.”

The unrest began last month after Flowers and Dougliss had an argument in the cemetery about whether the employees had permission to purchase a $100 software program. Flowers resigned following the altercation and then the remaining two commissioners put the three employees on leave so they could investigate perceived problems with the cemetery operations.

Dougliss had been supervisor of the cemetery since 1997 and his wife, Joan, had worked as the secretary and treasurer for 23 years. Dougliss’ son-in-law, David Watson, was the groundskeeper for two years.

At meetings following the suspensions, a small crowd of the Douglisses’ supporters angrily criticized the commissioners, while others were critical of the way Dougliss ran the public cemetery.

Abrahamse decided that all the anger was counterproductive and she realized that Dougliss, with all his institutional knowledge, was an invaluable asset. So against the advice of attorneys, she met with Dougliss and asked him to return under a new contract. She and Little decided --- outside of a public meeting --- to let him return to work this week; it’s a violation of the Open Public Meetings Act, but no one complained.

Joan Dougliss and another woman will split the bookkeeping work. Watson won’t be returning.

Little came up with the idea of contacting Services Alternative for help with cemetery maintenance. The agency is going to provide two workers free to the cemetery district.

Abrahamse and Dougliss agree that a lot of the contention was fueled by misunderstandings and the work of a few people with agendas. The commissioners had publicly complained, for example, that the combination to the safe wasn’t written where Dougliss said it was; it turned out that it was there, but covered by a piece of sheetrock.

In addition, Dougliss said an accusations that his son may have been bilking the cemetery district by getting paid inappropriately for website development isn’t true. He said his son was in Iraq for three years and may have sent in bills for work he did from over there, but the commissioners were completely responsible for approving vouchers.

Dougliss said he and his new crew are now working to get the cemetery into tip-top shape for Memorial Day.

 

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