Struggle to finalize cemetery rules continues

Augusta city officials have been steadily refining rules for Elmwood Cemetery since  2016, struggling to balance compassion for grieving families with ongoing maintenance challenges at the gravesites.
When citizens became outraged at the enforcement of rules a few months ago, the City Council backed off and discussed it further.    
An ad hoc committee, comprised of several city council members, funeral home personnel, city employees, and residents, met several times to address the issues, and there were work sessions dedicated to the cemetery.
Residents’ complaints spanned from the removal of removal of “treasured” momentoes to “lazy” cemetery workers.
Councilors and city staff spent even more time struggling with changes and adjustments to the regulations.
It has been obvious that the council members, along with city staff, care about maintaining a nicely groomed cemetery, but they are also determined to provide a service - to maintain the beauty of a final resting place in a dignified manner.   Therein lies the challenge.
The cemetery staff works hard to keep up with weeding, mowing and other care.  And the governing body must guarantee the employees a safe environment.   
At Monday night’s City Council meeting, City Manager Josh Shaw showed photos of issues at the cemetery - everything from bent shepherd’s hooks, broken glass and pottery shards, neglected flowers and toys - to trees being planted on burial plots.
Shaw shared that one family plot currently has grass about three feet tall growing on it because family members were adamant about taking care of the plot themselves.  The graves had at one time been covered with plastic and gravel.  Now the gravel is washing away and the plastic is showing through the bare spots.
Shaw advised that when cemetery staff attempted to clean up the plot, the police were called by family members, who accused cemetery staff of vandalism.
The grassy, plastic and gravel-covered grave does not meet any guidelines or regulations, but currently is being allowed to become overgrown with grass and weeds.
In the June workshop, Council member Tom Leffler stated that it was wrong to have allowed the placement of gravel/landscape rock and that it poses a  “very dangerous” situation for workers.
Due to the increase of free-standing flower pots, grave borders, solar lighting, and architectural items, cemeteries nation-wide are tightening cemetery rules.
Shaw told council members that beginning Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018, the City will continue removing all non-compliant decorations from Elmwood.  
Included as permitted decorations are:
• Decorations and adornments, not otherwise prohibited, placed completely on the monument base or foundation
• Fresh cut flowers at any time
• Artificial flowers on grave (grassy area) between Nov. 15 - March 1st
• Official medallions and flag holders within 2 inches of monument foundation
• Headstone saddles
• Approved shepherd’s hook

Councilman Cale Magruder expressed interest in the City making approved shepherd’s hooks available to sell to the public at a low cost.
Council approved, 6-0, offering 25 of the hooks at cost to the public to get started.
No other decisions were made and more discussion is expected concerning the cemetery rules and regulations.

To view Shaw’s presentation and the entire meeting, go to:  https://vimeo.com/cityofaugustaks.