Two months before the case is set to go to trial, the parties in a lawsuit over ownership of some Pacific cemetery records want to mediate the case, according to City Attorney Bob Jones.
Jones made the announcement during the board of aldermen meeting Nov. 21.
The case is centered on ownership of several old handwritten ledger books that recorded lot sales, burial dates and burial locations in the two city-owned cemeteries.
Alan Bruns, who served as sexton from 1988 to 2014, maintained the books at his Bruns Monument Company office. He was the third member of his family to serve as sexton and maintain the ledger books.
For several years prior to his election as mayor, Jeff Palmore, owner/operator of Bell Funeral Home, had claimed that there were numerous errors in the city cemetery records and petitioned the city to correct them.
Former Mayor Herb Adams made several attempts to clarify the records, but Palmore claimed the attempts only made matters worse.
When Palmore was elected mayor in April 2014, he refused to reappoint Bruns as city sexton and demanded that the records be brought to city hall.
Bruns claimed that the ledger books are personal family property and refused to hand them over to the city.
The dispute carried over into a series of board of aldermen meetings, until Oct. 21, 2014, when aldermen voted 5-0, with Alderman Mike Bates voting no, to allow Bruns to keep the records.
On Dec. 4, 2015, lifelong resident Neal Brennan, history buff and former city cemetery committee member, who said he was acting on behalf of citizens, filed suit against the city of Pacific, City Clerk Kim Barfield and Bruns asking the court to require that the cemetery records be seized from Bruns and turned over to the city clerk.
The books were delivered to the Franklin County Circuit Court and the case was assigned to Judge David Hoven.
In January 2016, the parties and their attorneys went to the courtroom, examined the records and compared them with records the city had in its possession.
After months of back and forth motions and interrogatories, the case was set for trial in Judge Hoven’s court on Jan. 29.
While MIRMA, the city’s insurance company, is defending the city and Barfield against a petition to return the records to city hall, Mayor Palmore has consistently claimed that the records were the property of the city. He had demanded from the date of his election that they should be returned to city hall.
Speaking at the Nov. 21 board meeting, Jones said Glen Price, adjuster with MIRMA, had contacted him saying the parties would like to try and mediate the dispute.
“The plaintiff (Brennan) and co-defendant Bruns have agreed to do that,” Jones said.
MIRMA asked for the city’s authorization to participate in that mediation.
An advantage to the city, Jones noted, is that the city’s insurer will pay fees involved in mediation.
In a 5-0 vote, with Alderman Carol Johnson absent, aldermen approved the mediation process, which will take place as soon as possible, according to Jones.