Attorney gives Opp Council options for cemeteries

Published 12:19 am Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Opp City Attorney David Baker gave the Opp City Council two options that would allow the city to legally provide upkeep for three private cemeteries in the city.

Since January, concerned citizens have visited the council twice trying to undo a policy set by the previous administration of not cleaning the cemeteries at Hickory Grove, Cool Springs and Hardin Street.

Former Mayor John Bartholomew halted the cutting of those cemeteries after consulting with the state attorney general’s office, who said it was against the law for the city to cut private cemeteries as it would be for them to cut a person’s private yard.

In years past, the city has cut the grass, but since the AG’s office said it was illegal, Bartholomew wouldn’t budge on cutting the cemeteries.

Baker said he researched the law about the cemetery problem raised by residents.

Baker said there are two legal ways for the city to take over and maintain private cemeteries.

“A probate court action under Alabama Code 11-17-1, where a private cemetery is dedicated to the public. Please note that the city must pay damages suffered by any person by reason of taking of that person’s property. The city would take ownership of the cemeteries.”

Baker explained that, while it’s not likely, that family members could decide that they need $10,000 in damages, and it would be up to the probate court to decide what to assess. The city would be responsible for paying those damages.

With this route, the city would own the headstones, cemeteries, bodies in the ground, etc., at the cemeteries, Baker said.

The second way would be using Alabama Code 11-80-13 which appoints citizens to a board designed to register and maintain neglected cemeteries in Opp.

Baker said the board’s duties would be to raise private funds to upkeep the abandoned cemeteries.

Baker also told the council that members of the board could not be sued, which means that should the board not pay the money for the upkeep of the cemeteries, the city would be out of any money not paid.

Baker recommended to the council to set up a Municipal Cemetery Rehabilitation Authority Board.

He recommended getting churches to help put folks on the board.

Mayor Becky Bracke was concerned about who would continue serving on the board and raising money after those they would appoint to the board die.

“I know it’s a big liability and expense to make it city property,” she said.

Essentially, Bracke was concerned about being in the same situation years from now by going with the authority.

The council took not action on the recommendation.