Ed Gass, city operations committee chairman, said a planned meeting with Jeffrey Palmore, Bell Funeral Parlor owner, over ownership of some city cemetery lots could jeopardize the city’s insurance coverage.
“Our insurance company paid a large part of our legal bills in our litigation with Mr. Palmore,” Gass said. “They tell us if we (the committee) were to agree to make any kind of payment to him they would not be with us on future litigation.”
Aldermen voted unanimously at the May 1 meeting for the three-member operations committee to meet with Palmore to discuss ownership disparity in deeds for lots in the city cemetery. Palmore said he and other owners have deeds for lots that are occupied.
At that meeting, Palmore asked for an informal session between him and the city, saying he wanted to show them the records disparity he had found.
After voting for aldermen to sit down with Palmore and look at the evidence he claimed to have, a meeting was posted for 6:30 p.m. May 8, but it was canceled at the last minute.
Gass said he canceled the meeting after a conversation with City Administrator Harold Selby about how the Missouri Intergovernmental Risk Management Association (MIRMA), the city’s insurance carrier, would view the meeting.
MIRMA has covered a large portion of the city’s legal costs in the litigation with Palmore.
Selby and Mayor Herb Adams had concerns about whether MIRMA would continue to defend the city in litigation with Palmore if officials held a meeting with him outside the court system.
Selby contacted Ray Lentz, MIRMA claims and litigation director, who urged caution in dealings with Palmore.
Gass said that MIRMA had paid between $70,000 and $80,000 in legal costs for the city to defend itself.
In an email to Selby regarding a meeting between aldermen and Palmore, Lentz wrote: “On the Palmore issue, you should have the city attorney advise you on that. I would certainly advise caution considering the past litigation.”
At the May 1 meeting, City Attorney Dan Vogel said the meeting would be a waste of time since the issue had already been aired in the courts and Palmore’s claims had been rejected. He urged aldermen, if they wanted to meet with Palmore, to first have him submit in writing what he planned to present to them.
Even though the meeting was canceled, Gass said he would still like to meet with Palmore but his concern was that a meeting could impact whether MIRMA would cover the city’s legal costs in future lawsuits by Palmore.
Although Palmore is a citizen and a city business owner, Gass said as an alderman he could not jeopardize the city’s insurance coverage.
“I’d be happy to meet with the gentleman,” Gass said. “But I couldn’t take that chance.
Palmore says that litigation between him and city is not over.
“The mayor and city attorney keep saying the litigation is over,” Palmore said. “I can tell you, it ain’t over.”
Palmore said he wants to see the records cleared up on deeds created by the late August Bruns, who served as city cemetery sexton for several decades in the last century.
Bruns sometimes buried people in graves that he owned and provided a handwritten deed transferring ownership of the graves to the family of the person buried there. That practice sometimes left in question ownership of the remaining graves in the eight-grave lot.
Palmore has waged a campaign to clarify city cemetery records, saying he is in the burial business and does his work within the city cemetery and its records.
Gass said he is baffled at the long-standing battle over Bruns’ paperwork practices.
“I think Mr. Bruns probably did the best that he could,” Gass said. “He probably wrote everything out by hand. He didn’t have a city clerk to do it for him. To try to go back now and reconstruct what he intended would be hard to do.”
Still, Gass said he would like to meet with Palmore as long as the mortuary owner understands that aldermen cannot come to any agreement with him or pay him for any perceived loss.
“All we would be able to do is to talk,” Gass said.
Adams said aldermen need to make a decision on whether or not they intend to hold the meeting they approved May 1.
The mayor said he has placed the meeting on the June 6 board of aldermen agenda.
“They voted to meet with Mr. Palmore and then decided not to meet with him,” Adams said. “Procedurally the aldermen need to either reschedule the meeting or rescind their motion to hold a meeting.”
Adams said his decision to revisit the issue in the June meeting was simply one of procedure.