City officials want to remove all doubt about the city cemetery records by using a review similar to the state audit conducted in 2011.
The audit was required after 434 citizens signed a petition calling for it because petitioners questioned city policies.
State auditors reviewed issues that petitioners identified and then went further and looked at every aspect of how the city does its business.
After the audit was complete, the city received the highest rating of any mandated audit. In giving the report in person, during a board of aldermen meeting, state Auditor Tom Schweich said Pacific is one of the best-run cities of its size in the state.
Mayor Herb Adams is betting that a similar audit of city cemetery records and practices will give the city a clean bill of health on the management of both the city cemetery and Resurrection Hill Cemetery.
The city hired Brian May, whose family owns St. Louis Funeral and Cremation, which includes three mortuary, cemetery and crematory operations. This will be the first time May has worked with a city-owned cemetery.
The unanimous action to hire a cemetery manager was taken at the June 19 board of aldermen meeting.
Adams said he will put no limit on where May could go to study the cemetery records. An outsider was chosen to do the review, Adams said, because he, other city officials and mortuary owner Jeff Palmore are all tainted and cannot be trusted to look at the records impartially.
“We are all opinionated,” Adams said. “I have invited someone impartial to come and look at our records because none of us is impartial. We should remove all doubt.”
May said records in old cemeteries are always complicated. When he was hired to review the operation of Forever Oak Hill, which his family later bought, the Forever staff had a revolving door, he said.
“Sometimes they sold the same grave twice. The biggest part of what we do is tell clients the truth straight up,” May said. “If we find that someone is buried in a space that a client owns, our policy is to apologize and give the client another grave.
“People won’t mind having their loved ones buried a few spaces away,” he said.
If May repeats that practice in Pacific, the mayor’s dream will be realized and all will be solved, Palmore said.
That problem is at the crux of Palmore’s claim about city records. The city and or its sexton have repeatedly issued deeds to graves that are occupied, according to Palmore. If May identifies occupied graves that owners have deeds for and give the owners another grave Palmore said he would be happy.
“I will be ecstatic,” the mortuary owner said.
“I was happy when the mayor hired Tim Rainey to review the records and I was happy when the mayor hired Nettie Painter to review the records. Nettie Painter does not have a cemetery background,” he said. “When she found a discrepancy, she issued a dummy deed for the space and the city clerk and mayor signed it.
“The real issue of my argument with the city is not about what happened 60 or 70 years ago. It is about what is happening now and what will happen tomorrow,” Palmore said. “It’s about what happens when it is time to bury someone in one of those occupied spaces.”
Adams said he would not comment on any possible findings that May might mak,e but would wait for a report and respond then.
City Administrator Selby said he got the idea for an independent review after considering the method and results of the state audit.
“The state auditors looked at the city’s records and listened to concerns of citizens,” Selby said. “When they were finished, they made a report to aldermen and made recommendations and the city responded to those recommendations.”
Selby said he felt certain the city could benefit from an outside look at cemetery records.
“My major thought when looking at those records was to be amazed as how far back this goes,” he said. “The most important thing to me is how do we do it better.”
Cost of the initial review will be $50 an hour for May’s time, not to exceed $3,500, although Adams said he wanted a thorough review and cost is not an issue.
There is no time limit on how long the review will take, however May said if he ran into a problem that could not be solved he would tell the city and end the review.