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August 12, 2020

7/1/2020 11:50:00 AM
Concerns shake up Vernon Cemetery board
Kenny Sandefur board member, makes a point to Dennis McCollum  as Thelma Wade, center, listens in. Both Dennis and Thelma were later elected to serve on the board.
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Kenny Sandefur board member, makes a point to Dennis McCollum as Thelma Wade, center, listens in. Both Dennis and Thelma were later elected to serve on the board.
Weed eating between graves, or the absence of the work as illustrated above, was one of the issues brought up at the annual meeting. This area of the cemetery was reportedly not included in the mowing contract.
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Weed eating between graves, or the absence of the work as illustrated above, was one of the issues brought up at the annual meeting. This area of the cemetery was reportedly not included in the mowing contract.
At times, the annual meeting of the Vernon Cemetery board grew loud enough to seemingly shake the foundations of the graves the organization is duty bound to care for.

In the end, the organization was left with four new board members promising to take up the challenge to address concerns expressed. Cathy Barber; Dennis McCol-lum, who was later elected the new president; Vicki Short, elected vice-president; and Thelma Wade, treasurer.

The new members will be joined by hold-over directors Kenny Sandefur and Gene Rudicel, bringing the board number to six after the resignations of long-serving directors John Post, most recently vice-president, and Dan Wright, most recently secretary-treasurer. Both served for about 10 years.

The meeting, held at the old Vernon High School gym, drew some 30 lot owners who are considered owners of the private non-profit.

The meeting opened with a call for nominations for four board openings. Immediately, one member responded, "Everybody needs to be replaced" and that it was "sad we don't have board members who care (about the cemetery)."

Issues raised by those present included:

WeedEating/Mowing: Several complained grass inbetween graves was not being trimmed or when there was weed eating, cuttings were not brushed off stones. The fact the present board had hired a mowing company to cut a portion of the cemetery was criticized because there were no bids taken for the contract. Fellow director John Post, though, did speak up and say Dan Wright who did the hiring, had talked to him about it beforehand.

General Upkeep: Lot owners complained about the upkeep and care of graves. Pat Bott recounted "It was very upsetting" when her 75-year-old husband Tom had to haul dirt to fill in their son-in-law's grave which settled some 14 inches since he was buried in January.

Finances: Vicki Short told the board the cemetery needed to be run like a business. She asked about the organization's tax exemption being revoked in 2015, raised questions about billings and why its Perpetual Care Fund was invested in certificates of deposits and not invested where it could be making money.

Dan Wright, treasurer, explained that he spends approximately 10-15 hours a week keeping the books for the cemetery figuring out its payroll, accounts payable and receivables and various financial/tax reports.

He has worked on getting the group's tax exemption straightened out and explained that situation was "dumped on me."

As far as the cemetery's Perpetual Fund, Weight explained that the board had gotten "burned" when the stock market took a dive back in 2008 or 2009. Since then, the board has been "scared" and has refused to invest funds in anything but CDs.

Short also said there should be an itemized statement each month and that an audit was needed. "It looks like nothing is being handled," she said.

Employees: There are currently three full-time employees at the cemetery. Several lot owners asked questions about their responsibilities. Thelma Ward noted there is "no way three can take care of the cemetery."

John Post defended himself and other board members, noting the board are all volunteers and that he personally is busy working 10 hours a day. "Most of us do the best we can," he said.

There are new challenges and the new board will have to confront them, said Wright. "It's a different environment today."

One of the biggest challenges to cemetery finances is the financial impact of more people opting for cremation instead of burial. This translates into less income to run and operate the cemetery as fewer burial plots are sold.

The cemetery "will need to go through some major changes," he predicted, just like any other cemetery not tied to a government, church or fiscal body that provides financial support.

The new board will need to figure out "how to move forward," said Wright, but they will have to chart a new path without his help.

"You lose sleep over it. It's just a difference of opinion in how things should be running," he said of the members' criticisms.

"I guess it's just time for somebody else to rethink it."

New treasurer: I was told to quit

Thelma Ward's tenure on the board lasted about two weeks.

In a call to the Plain Dealer Tuesday of this week, she reported the board met Friday night, June 26, which she could not attend due to a previous commitment.

On Saturday, she received an email asking for her resignation. In her view, she was asked to get off the board because "I am not a 'Yes' person."

During her two weeks as treasurer, Wade says she discovered the Vernon Cemetery did not have any type of financial software or computer or, for that matter, "no bookkeeping system whatsoever."

Wade, who says she has previously served on two 401(c)3 nonprofit boards, lined up getting a computer and accounting software for the cemetery which would cost about $500, and be paid for with a recent $1000 donation the board received. However, the board did not agree to move forward with this plan.

"I would like to see some business people get on that board," she said.

"I'm not sure there are enough people who are aware of the condition the cemetery is in." In Ward's opinion, the board needs "some fresh ideas" and believes the cemetery "has not been managed very well."

She notes that there is about six weeks of payroll in the cemetery's checking account; $60,000 in its savings account; and around $350,000 in the Perpetual Care Fund invested in CDs.

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