Litigants agreed to a mediated settlement in the lawsuit involving ownership of cemetery records but Pacific Mayor Jeff Palmore said the issue is far from settled.
In December 2015 resident Neil Brennan filed suit in Franklin County Associate Circuit Court against the city, City Clerk Kim Barfield and former sexton Alan Bruns, demanding that cemetery records in Bruns’ possession be turned over to the city clerk.
He also asked for punitive damages against Barfield for allowing the records out of her possession and Bruns for having possession of the records that Brennan said were city property.
The court ordered Bruns to deliver four handwritten ledger books, which he and other members of his family, acting as city sexton, had maintained, to the court, where they remained for the duration of the lawsuit.
Originally the suit asked that Barfield and Bruns pay punitive damages, but under terms of the out-of-court settlement agreement the three parties, Brennan, Barfield and Bruns, relieved each other of any claims for costs or damages.
The parties also agreed that the court “shall declare” the disputed records to be the official property of the city of Pacific and that they be maintained at city hall.
The court “shall declare” that neither Bruns nor any member of his family has any ownership of the cemetery records in possession of the court.
In a 5-1 vote with Mike Pigg casting the no vote, aldermen authorized the mayor to sign the settlement agreement and mutual release of the lawsuit.
He did not immediately sign the agreement at the end of the meeting. In an emotional presentation during the meeting, Palmore claimed that there are other records that Bruns did not turn over to the court. He said the case should not be considered concluded, which triggered a shouting match between the mayor and Pigg.
Palmore said the settlement agreement coincided with an upcoming burial in Resurrection Hill Cemetery, in which there are no records indicating ownership of spaces containing three members of one family and a fourth space where the family wishes the recently deceased man to be buried.
“The city never received payment for those three graves,” Palmore said.
Palmore said the current burial will take place in the desired space this week but payment for the grave space is still to be settled.
“How did these three individuals get buried in the city cemetery with no records of burials?” he asked aldermen.
Aldermen said they would be unable to answer the question to the mayor’s satisfaction and said his disagreement over the records could not be settled in the board meeting.
Nick Chlebowski said one solution would be to provide no further burials in the city cemeteries until the records issue was settled but aldermen Carol Johnson and Pigg said the wishes of families to have members buried near loved ones had to take precedence over the records dispute.
“We can’t deny these families the right to bury their loved ones near other family members,” Pigg said.
Palmore stressed that he wanted the mystery of the three unrecorded burials explained.
“We can’t open a grave because we don’t have all the records,” Palmore said. “People were buried in our cemetery in the last year or two that we don’t know about. They’re penciled in on drawings but we don’t have the names.
“I have a service before me now and we could not find the records today,” Palmore added. “We have dummy deeds for three graves buried in 2010. Where are the records?”
According to Palmore, the records were at city hall at one time but are now gone.
“You might have taken them,” Pigg said. “We (the aldermen) don’t know where they are. You’ve been the mayor for almost four years and you’ve done nothing to straighten out the cemetery records.”
Palmore said the city should have the records and future litigation would hinge on that.
“Those books (in the hands of the court) are not all the records,” Palmore said. “I told the attorneys and MIRMA (the city’s liability insurance provider) but they said it was not relevant to this case.”
“I say it is relevant to this case and will be relevant to future cases,” Palmore said. “Mr. Bruns was ordered to turn over all the records and he did not.”