Pacific officials say they hope to find an end to a deepening dispute over approvals needed to perform work in the city cemetery.
A firestorm erupted last week when former sexton Alan Bruns, who operates Bruns Monument Company, received a letter telling him to cease and desist from performing work in the cemetery without a work permit, an action never before required.
Bruns had an order to set a monument on a grave in the city cemetery but when he visited the cemetery a city tractor was parked on the burial ground to block access to the grave.
The following morning Bruns received a letter from City Attorney Robert Jones that read:
“It has been brought to the city’s attention that you have performed work in the city’s cemeteries without a work permit. These acts constitute trespass . . . You must cease and desist any further work in the city’s cemeteries without a work permit.”
The letter did not specify what work Bruns had performed and was to cease.
Aldermen weighed in on the dispute, saying that Mayor Jeff Palmore, who operates a funeral home that also provides monuments should not be acting as sexton and should not use that role as mayor to hinder one of his competitors.
Palmore, who owns and operates Bell Funeral Home, performed the funeral on the grave where he prevented Bruns from installing a monument.
“He has a financial interest in this,” Alderman Steve Myers said. “This looks like a conflict of interest.”
Myers also questioned Palmore’s self-assigned role as the individual who grants permission to work in the cemetery.
“If the mayor is the person who people who have business in the cemetery have to seek permission from, how is he going to seek permission from himself,” Myers said. “This is not reasonable.”
Bruns told The Missourian that between July 2014 to the present he had set four tombstones in the city cemetery.
Bruns said in each of those cases Palmore was notified. He (Bruns) personally notified Palmore on one occasion that he would place the monuments and owners had notified Palmore of the stones that would set on the other three.
Bruns said last week’s letter was baffling because it refers to an ordinance that reads:
“It shall be unlawful for any person to excavate or work on any grave or lot in the city cemeteries without first obtaining the permission of the owner thereof and the sexton.”
There is no work permit specified in the ordinance and the city has no sexton at present.
City Administrator Steve Roth said he had ordered that the letter be sent at the direction of the mayor.
“The mayor has repeatedly complained to me and the city attorney that Alan Bruns has worked in the cemetery without permission, and has acted in the role of sexton when it was no longer his position,” Roth said.
Roth said Palmore’s concerns about Bruns’ work in the cemetery had been going on for several months.
“The discussion between the mayor, city attorney and myself on this issue has been ongoing since last fall, and the first draft of this letter was drafted last November,” Roth said. “After subsequent conversations, the mayor late Tuesday afternoon specifically directed me to have equipment parked over the headstone in question, and to have the letter be sent, and I complied with this directive.”
“The mayor, as I’ve said previously, has directed both myself and the city clerk to refer all cemetery issues to him, which we’ve done,” Roth said.
Bruns said the question of who is the sexton is not clear.
“Since April 2014 Mayor Palmore has never appointed a sexton, nor has any appointment of a sexton been made and approved by the board of aldermen since April 2014,” Bruns said.
“There is no sexton now without appointment and approval. Under state statute I was the last one,” Bruns said. “I think with all the past bad blood between Palmore and me, one would tend to believe I’m being sorted out on this situation.”
Bruns said he had sent a letter making those points to the city administrator.
“I will sign a work order permit and pay any fee there but I will not ask permission from a sexton who legally for three years doesn’t exist,” Bruns said. “Nor could I trust a person to mark off monuments in the right lot, when that person cannot get grave openings in the right lot.”
Alderman Mike Pigg said he had talked extensively to both Roth and Jones to make his feelings known that the city should not be singling out one business at the direction of the mayor, especially when that business is a competitor of the mayor’s business.
“Jeff (Palmore) is abusing his power,” Pigg said. “He is taking a personal war to the next level.”
Bruns told The Missourian late Friday, April 14, that he had filled out a work order request that Roth quickly created to meet the requirement so he could serve his customer.
Carol Johnson said for Roth to interpret the ordinance and create a permit that did not exist without involving the aldermen only added to the confusion.
“Here we have another ordinance that is not clear and three individuals — the city administrator, city attorney and mayor — come up with a permit and decide to use this against one of our businesses without coming to the board of aldermen,” Johnson said. “This is just plain wrong.”
“They (mayor and city administrator) have been having this discussion for months. This should have come out in Steve Roth’s report and be laid on the table in front of aldermen to let us decide,” Johnson said.
Johnson said the mayor had a conflict of interest in the recent act to stop one of his funeral home’s competitors from doing business and was abusing his power.
“I don’t stand with any of this,” Johnson said. “They (Roth, Jones and Palmore) are circumventing the board of aldermen.”
Nick Chlebowski concluded that the mayor acted outside his authority when he acted as sexton. (See separate story.)