Mayor: Opp can’t maintain private cemetery

Published 2:51 am Thursday, December 31, 2015

Questions have been raised over the last year about whether it is illegal for the city of Opp to maintain private cemeteries.

Family members have spoken at Opp City Council meetings aggravated that the city isn’t keeping up private cemeteries – specifically Hickory Grove Cemetery.

Mayor John Bartholomew and City Clerk Connie Smith have said they consulted with the state attorney general’s office and it is against the law for the city to cut cemeteries as it would be for them to cut a person’s private yard.

In years past, the city has cut the grass, but Bartholomew said since it’s not legal he won’t do it.

On Monday, the city provided the Star-News with the AG’s opinion, after a concerned family member contacted a Star-News’ reporter about the situation.

James Hudson, who currently lives in Arkansas, said he visits his parents’ graves at the Hickory Grove Cemetery in Opp around two or three times a year to replace flowers and remember them.

“I have noticed over the last few years that the property was not being taken care of,” he said. “I was unaware of the controversy involving maintenance of the cemetery.”

Hudson said he contacted city hall and learned that the city had received complaints about the condition of the cemetery, but that nothing could be done.

“I then spoke to the mayor about my concerns and the city’s weed ordinance,” he said. “He told me he could go to jail, if he spent public funds to maintain private property.”

Hudson said that Hickory Grove Cemetery is one of the oldest cemeteries in the area.

Smith provided a 2010 Attorney General opinion in which then-AG Troy King concluded that “maintenance of a church cemetery by a county commission would violate section 94 of article IV of the Recompiled Constitution of Alabama.” Section 94 prohibits spending public funds for private purposes.

Hudson also provided information from Rep. Mike Jones’ office.

In the memo from Jones’ office, it cites section 94, but states that the courts have held that the prohibition in 94 is not absolute.

Additionally, information from Jones’ office cites Alabama code “Any incorporated city or town having within its corporate limits an ancient family cemetery or burial ground or owning a cemetery or burial ground may make and enter into a contract with any interested party or parties obligating and binding the city or town to forever protect, maintain and properly care for such cemetery or burial ground or for graves of individuals in the cemeteries or burial grounds owned by such city or town, upon terms and conditions as may be agreed upon and for such compensation as it may see fit to accept.”

Additionally, Jones’ office says that there is a test as part of Section 94 that it would be a direct benefit to general character of the public.

The Star-News provided Bartholomew with the information from Jones’ office, but he said is obligated to go with the AG’s opinion.