In January, the City Council was accused of meddling in “dead people’s business” – when it discontinued the practice of having undertakers build vaults and graves in the City Cemeteries and also re-open graves. The council took over the job itself and there was a great hue and cry – as missteps were made in the municipal administration and the execution of the new duties.
Long-established undertaker David Coye went to court, to seek judicial review of the council’s policy decision – and he won. The council agreed to a settlement which will allow Coye and other undertakers revert to the prior position, and resume full cemetery services, including the building of vaults and graves and re-opening graves.
A win for the undertakers and a loss for the council, which was pilloried in the press and consumed a great deal of political capital in opposing city residents who wanted to have the right to bury their dead with an undertaker of their choosing. Today the mayor told us it is a humbling experience and one that thought him about the importance of dialogue as an alternative to confrontation.
MAYOR DARRELL BRADLEY - BACK-PEDALS ON GRAVE POLICY
"Basically what we have agreed is that we are going to permit them to return back into the Cemetery. We will set policies and guidelines, regulations and specifications as it relates to the construction of tombs. As long as they are prepared to work with us then we will work with them. We are not in the business of stopping anybody in engaging in any kind of trade or any kind of economic opportunity because that's their mainstay."
"So then all that effort and energy we went through was really futile?"
"Well I didn't go through any energy. Like I have said previously, when this decision was made originally, I was not the one who made it. It is unfortunate that our first line was to stop them. As Mayor I am saying that in my view I don't think that was the best course. We should have dialogued with them first."
"But Mayor everyone at the City Council knows you are the 'Decider'. You made the decisions."
"Everyone feels that is the case. That isn't always the case. One of the things that I have said is a fault of the City Council is that we need to consult more. Our decision making processes need to include more of the stakeholder agencies."
"You sound humbled. Has this been a learning experience?"
"Being Mayor is a humbling experience and it's unfortunate that you learn as you go. I am not ashamed to say that we have made mistakes going along."
"Isn't this simply about the fact that the laws did not provide for the uni-lateral decision taken by the council."
"Well there isn't a law that provides for the uni-lateral decision. One of the tenants of good administration is the principle of participatory decision making and consultation. Which is something that we aspire for but we don't always do. Many things I have thought could have been done differently. Such as the trade license issues where we had concerned raised by the Chamber of Commerce, many of those things have still not been addressed satisfactory in the Chamber's point of view."
So, by the letter of the court order, the undertakers are now free to, “provide funeral services at the Lord Ridge and Eternal Garden Cemeteries…including undertaking construction and installing of common graves, enclosed graves, re-opening graves, vault and erecting tombstones as the case may be,” end quote.
But, they’ll have competition, the city council plans to stay in the business – and says it will offer its services at competitive prices.