Emotions ran high all around at the annual Blanco Historic Cemetery Association meeting, which took place Monday evening at the Blanco Library. There were between 25 to 30 people there, more than double last year's attendance of 10. Unfortunately, the meeting was rather chaotic as strong emotions ran rampant through the members, both on and off the board.
President Tina Gourley called the meeting to order at 6:17 pm. Secretary Rebecca Howerton recited the "partial minutes" from the last director's meeting, which took place last fall.
Members brought up one of the points covered in the last meeting about marking reserved plots with the name of the family reserving them. The members voted against this idea in the previous meeting, but more discussion ensued.
Gourley explained that, to aid in plot selection for new customers, the association has plot books that the current board has taken over from previous boards. These books and accompanying paperwork have discrepancies. There are plots that are reserved but have not been paid for. The association has looked through the records, have found no markers or evidence of burial or even a proof of purchase, and are trying to resolve why there are names on reserved plots but no payment.
In one instance, they came across a name on a check, but the plot numbers in the records differ. They are trying to confirm if the plots are to be held for the long term and, in the meantime, are being held until a confirmation is reached.
The board has done an audit on the plots and have found incomplete records. Moving forward, they are trying to develop a method to record plots that members purchase and mark it somehow to reserve it. A simple certificate is not enough to do this; Gourley believes that they need to use all ways possible to ensure people get the plot they pay for.
The members previously voted against putting names on the plots but, at the same time, are annoyed that they could have paid for something they will not receive. Members are allowed to do curbing and naming on their own after getting a permit.
The board stressed that they are trying to fix the current problems with the system. They are bringing the issues to the members to consider, vote on, and move forward.
Secretary Rebecca Howerton stepped up to give her report. "I am glad to discover that I am not perfect!" she said, referring to the technical issues that caused headaches for board members all day prior to the meeting. "It keeps me from casting any stones at glass houses." The minutes from the previous meeting were not approved. Due to a power outage, the board did not have a complete, official record of the minutes from that meeting.
The association will have another member meeting to approve minutes and go over everything they couldn't fit in Monday's meeting. This meeting will be Monday, May 16, at 7pm at the Masonic Lodge. The agenda will be posted beforehand. Jon Warren brought forth the motion, Diane Hostetler seconded, and it was voted on and approved.
Vice President Gail McClellan stepped up and discussed her "Who's Who in the Blanco Historic Cemetery" articles. She mentioned that they've been going over well and they've been enjoyable for the public because "there's names in every story." She also explained her process. She started in the corner square and went to highway 165 on the second strip. She is finishing the B strip and will move on to the C strip. She isn't getting every single grave because some of the stones are illegible.
McClellan went on to say that they need certificates for greater accuracy. Grounds Superintendent David Seymour mentioned that these certificates were not issued until the mid-1970s. McClellan said she had nothing else to report.
Tina Gourley and Dennis Moore gave the treasurer's report. Gourley explained that she took over Dennis Moore's position of treasurer as Moore was battling health issues. Moore reported that cash-on-hand at the end of 2010 was $10,127.38 and, on April 7, was $4,112.93. The board explained that they'd like to implement a system that takes the funds to the secretary, who writes a receipt and gives it to the treasurer, who checks the balance. Moore reported that the assets of the association are $257,106.32. This does not include property tax; it is the cash on hand, savings, and COD.
Gourley pointed out that, if you compare the years on the spreadsheet handed out, there is a difference in how much money goes to the directors: 0% of funds go to directors now. She said that the board tries to be financially responsible and tries to "use the funds as judiciously as possible."
Gourley also went over some additional financial points. In 2010, the grounds maintenance fees were $9,308.99. Also, a project occurred in 2010 where they repaired and restored stones. The members set a cap of $5,000 to do this and ended up spending a total of $4,079.85. There was also a $75 fee to fix a monument that a member accidentally backed into and broke.
McClellan pointed out that she was not aware of a lot of these projects going on and asked if it would be a good idea to have monthly director meetings open to the public. She had not been informed about the project to replace stones and admitted that the directors needed better communication. Moore agreed to the monthly meetings idea.
Gourley said that McClellan's point was well taken, but "we've had a bit of difference of opinion within the board," as well as a "contentious relationship." They "still need to get work done for members, and it's not necessary to expose raw nerves. We've been handed down a voluminous task... records on scraps of paper... listings on notebooks. We're trying to compile from various directors notes... and make sense in an accurate way who's in the cemetery and who's paid. Many hours [have been] spent on things that look unimportant but end up being a missing link that traces back to the certificate."
She went on to explain that they have found six graves that had been paid for but never marked down in the official records. They were listed as accounts receivable as payment due, but that money had been received.
McClellan brought up an idea of using committees to help sort it all out. Gourley said that they "take the ball and run... every issue that's been hitting has been snowballing from many directions."
Gourley continued more about the markers issue. Cheryl Seymour was entering information and found discrepancies. The certificates say that the bodies are supposed to be in a certain place. There was an issue with Clara Gourley and some plots she had reserved after her husband Mike was killed in the 1990s. A year later, she bought plots for her son, daughter, and their future spouses. The former directors placed the markers and marked Clara's end plot.
The grandparents were in the wrong row, however. There was a gravestone for him and his wife, and a military footstone at the base. The former directors thought he was there, so they moved the young military man into Clara's space that she had reserved and paid for first. Clara said that Tina had called her and said "we owe you money," which she didn't appreciate.
Tina said that the certificates correctly state that the young man should be in another row. Tina said she called Clara about the problem and said it was a dilemma since Clara had paid for the plot first, before that young man died. Tina also told the family of the young man that those plots weren't theirs and asked Clara if she could give her two other plots. Clara said that she wasn't going to split up her family.
McClellan stated that she and Moore knew nothing about this situation, and other members present began to get upset at all of the confusion and chaos. One member said "we voted you all in..." in frustration with everything happening and everyone talking over each other.
McClellan took the floor and said that this is all very important to sort out because it concerns "issues with the heart." She restated that she knew nothing about what was going on and that Moore hadn't been invited to a board meeting and that they all desperately need to get onto the same page. Gourley got upset and McClellan said that she was embarrassed that she didn't know about the problem.
McClellan continued on to mention a letter of demand by another member. Two years ago, this other member had a problem with straightening out her plots. Seymour and Gourley were brought in and McClellan thought it was all resolved until she heard through the "Blanco grapevine" that there was a lawsuit. This member wants information about what she discussed with McClellan.
It is a continuing legal issue about this member wanting confirmation of her seven plots. There are five marked and two not marked as of the board meeting last Saturday. Gourley said that all the plots were marked since she only had five plots reserved. Seymour stepped in and said that they tried to resolve this with the member before attorneys were brought in, but nothing was figured out.
At this point, a member in attendance gathered her things and walked out of the meeting.
McClellan said that she wished that this member issuing the letter was in attendance to speak for herself.
Jon Warren, in the audience, then put in a motion for regular monthly meetings, put on paper where and when they will be for the public to attend. This was seconded. The meetings would be to keep members updated on what's going on and there would be no member discussion or voting.
"It's good politics for meetings to be open," McClellan said.
The issue was not officially voted on.
Moore said that this was discussed at the last meeting on Saturday.
"We're more dysfunctional than they were," said McClellan, comparing the current board to the former board of directors. McClellan said that she had asked to bring house guests staying with her to the last meeting, but Gourley had said that they were meeting in a small area with no heat, air conditioner, or ample seating, the wind is a problem, and the board is trying to accomplish things. McClellan said that she didn't want to digress and that it's okay for the board members to disagree.
"Bring your own chair and a fan," Gourley said about others coming to the board meetings. "We're not hiding anything. Anyone is welcome... there's enough contention between a certain group in the board and other board members... to not have effective board meetings."
Another member spoke up and said that the board members need to get along because they are representing all of them. He said that there's a problem on the board.
Moore said that they would have their monthly meetings on the first Saturday of each month at 10am at the cemetery.
Gourley said that they need to get the plot discrepancies aligned and work together to get a resolution. They need to mesh all of their documents and recuse themselves when their own family is involved in these issues. She continued to explain that she was doing Moore's job and that extra work took a huge toll on her. She said that they need methodology in the constitution so that if one of them is not able to do their duties, they can bring someone else in to step up and take over. Their current bylaws do not allow this.
Howerton took the stand again and asked if anyone thought that the cemetery didn't look good. She said that she is planning to stay on the board but doesn't want to be secretary anymore, preferring to spend time fixing up the cemetery and keeping it clean. She asked Connie Russell to come aboard to take her place as secretary.
Howerton pointed out all of the people who help at the cemetery. Charlene and Raymond Singleton pick out the bad flowers and add new ones. Phyllis Edmondson comes from Alvin and writes down the stones that need to be fixed. David and Hillary are working on posts to help family members find their loved ones. Carl Bragg and Delores put out flags. Cheryl Seymour gathers information about veterans. Little does all the mowing. None of them get paid for it, she stated.
Gourley read from the official minutes from 2009 and recalled how the current board was elected. In that year, Howerton went to Gourley, Moore, and Seymour to come onto the new board. She also asked Keith McClellan, who referred his wife, Gail, instead. Kenneth Moore in the audience asked who gave Howerton the authority to appoint members like that and pick her own group. Member Diane Hostetler spoke up that she had asked Howerton to help.
In February 2009, the association accepted the resignation of three board members–husband, wife, and daughter. Howerton was attempting to convince them to have open meetings and account for the association's money. Howerton presented new members in this emergency situation. According to the minutes, a motion was brought forth, Retta Martin seconded it, and it passed. They held an election for six slots with six candidates and they were all verified. At this point, the meeting was opened to the other members again. They brought up issues such as grass, a lower pricing compared to other nearby cities' cemeteries (and non-Blanconians purchasing plots just for a lower price). Gourley acknowledged these problems as new president and promised to work on it.
An idea was brought forward to have a new board with separation of duties. Howerton said that the meetings should be open to the public and Retta Martin said that it was a "new day for the cemetery."
Following the explanation about the board's history, Kenneth Moore nominated Connie Russell to the board. Gourley said to "do it!" even though they weren't there yet on the agenda. She explained that the members elect and vote on the board members and the board decides who does what on the board.
Howerton asked Connie Russell to be willing to take her place as secretary. At this time, the members voiced confusion about how the board is elected and how they elect their officers. There were two positions open and both the members currently holding those positions planned on re-running. Someone brought up that they wanted to see more members on the board since the association constitution does not address it and the membership decides the number of board members.
Gourley said that the members can vote for an entirely new slate of board members and that would be fine with her. "I've given as much as I can give," she said. She said that she was distressed about the problems going on, and that those problems all started before the current board was elected.
Warren said that he wanted to see the board go from five to seven members. Charlene Singleton seconded the motion and it passed.
The board skipped to the slate of the new board members, as that was the new priority of the meeting as time ran out. David Seymour and Dennis Moore were running again and Charlene nominated Connie Russell. The board asked for more volunteers and Diane Hostetler raised her hand. Martha Gosnell nominated Diane as the seventh board member. Yalene Hobbs nominated David Seymour and Dennis Moore.
The four nominees were all voted on and all passed. Then, the three remaining members not up for re-election were also all voted on. All seven of them were nominated without dissent: Christina Gourley, Gail McClellan, Rebecca Howerton, David Seymour, Dennis Moore, Connie Russell, and Diane Hostetler. From there, these seven will decide their positions for themselves.
In the last two minutes of the meeting, regarding the constitution and bylaws, Gourley brought forth a motion for the members to form a committee to look at the current constitution and mesh it with new ideas. Warren seconded, and it passed. If anyone has any ideas for the new constitution, they are encouraged to contact the association.
The board went on to say that all of the issues not covered tonight would be covered in the next member meeting in May.
Before the meeting could be adjourned, members asked again about the letter from the other member about her plots. Gourley said that they had tried to meet with her to no avail. This member hired an attorney and, in the limited time they had to respond to her, Howerton brought on an attorney, a former student of hers, who helped them out pro bono. On that attorney's recommendation, the board hired Mark Beall to fix the constitution, certificates, and other issues. Beall sent a letter back in response to the demand letter.
Gourley explained that the plot was sold two sets of directors ago and that there was a body in one of this member's plots from 1916. She said that it was a huge problem, but that they needed to accept it and resolve it. They tried to work with this member for a resolution since her brother had passed away. He had wanted to be buried with his parents anyway, so they thought it was resolved. The board is currently awaiting a response from this member. Gourley said that, at their meeting last Saturday, this member was taking pictures of her and of the rest of the board. Gourley said that she was spent, and a motion was brought forward to adjourn, which was seconded and approved.
After adjournment, a member asked if he could get his certificate in case anything happened to him before he received it. Gourley said that they had run out of certificates in the rush when plots were still being sold at a cheaper price, but that they'd get him some legal documentation in the meantime. This member had a cancelled check that showed he had paid for and reserved his plots.