City could start cutting cemeteries’ lawns again

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 2, 2017

After a group of concerned residents visited the Opp City Council once again to ask for help with the upkeep – namely mowing – of three cemeteries, the council agreed to ask the city attorney to start the process to make that happen.

This is the second time since January a group has come before the new mayor and city council.

James Simmons, speaking for the group, said that there was no issue with the city cutting until the previous administration.

“This has not been a problem until the last four years,” he said. “In the last 30 years, before Cool Springs, Hickory Grove and Hardin Street were in the (city’s) mowing contract.”

Simmons said they were told by the previous administration that it was against the law for them to do that because they considered it a private cemetery. Simmons presented the council with a letter from Rep. Mike Jones’ that cites Alabama Code 11-47-41, which says, “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 or 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 the 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.”

Simmons said that Hickory Grove and Cool Springs are ancient, with one having the oldest grave dating back to 1896.

“I think we owe it to them to keep their resting place clean,” Simmons said.

Simmons asked that the section from the Alabama code be placed into the minutes in case of controversy in the future.

“Get with Mr. (David) Baker and draft an ordinance that would meet the requirements,” he said. “So this won’t be an ongoing situation.”

City Councilman Skip Spurlin told Simmons the council would talk to Baker, the city attorney, and if he felt it was legal they would proceed.

Another resident – Mr. Jones, said that the city maintained it for some 40 or 50 years before the previous administration.

“I’m not sure what they looked at four years ago,” he said. “I keep up Cool Springs and James keeps up Hickory Grove.”

Simmons said that it was started under the tenure of former mayor Ned Moore in the 1980s.

Vivian Stewart said there was no known owner of Hickory Grove Cemetery.

Kelvin Burkes, pastor of Living Waters Church, purchased the home and the church, but the cemetery was not part of the transaction.

Stewart said she has family members buried at the cemetery.

The residents gathered said that there had never been any plots sold at either Hickory Grove or Cool Springs. So, in essence they have served as public cemeteries for their existence.

Councilman Gary Strickland said that in January, they did not go to the state, they assumed that since the previous administration didn’t do it, that it was illegal.

“This from Mike Jones says it’s legal,” he said.

Simmons asked that the council move ask quickly as possible.

Mayor Becky Bracke said this was a big concern for the city.

“We will talk to David (Baker) and get it started,” she said.

Council member Chad Jackson said that the council had never been against the cleanup, they just wanted to make sure it was legal.