After 44 years, the contentious grave decoration rules may change: Will the new cemetery rules remain in effect? – New

Oakwood Cemetery in East Austin (photo by Mike Clark-Madison)

Austin hasn’t updated its rules on how graves in the city’s five cemeteries can be decorated since 1978. It’s been tried many times, but it’s an emotional and contentious issue where people aren’t Okay. In the meantime, there has been inconsistent application of existing rules, but many mourners have found their planted flowers torn down and their photos, handwritten notes and other items honoring the dead thrown away, as the Parks and Recreation Department tries to meet the maintenance needs of cemeteries, which are all historic sites that also have preservation needs.

Cemetery operations has dealt with numerous issues in its attempts to improve conditions and programs at cemeteries, which PARD had outsourced to a third-party contractor for years before regaining direct control in 2015. This includes the removal and reburial of at least 25 unidentified graves found during the renovation of the Oakwood Cemetery Chapel in East Austin, and broken irrigation systems over 50 years old. But the main challenge of updating cemetery rules is the tension between families’ plans for the burial sites of their loved ones and PARD’s ability to carry out routine maintenance like mowing.

In 2013, the city council passed a resolution directing a community engagement process that resulted in a report in 2015, public meetings throughout 2016 and 2017, and new draft rules in 2018, which were then released. withdrawn by the City Manager. Spencer Cronk as the division turned its full attention to Oakwood. Due to the pandemic “and other challenges”, PARD has just returned to the drawing board. Draft rules were released for public comment on September 7 and PARD held its first and only virtual community meeting on Monday evening; public comment closed Tuesday evening. No face-to-face meetings are scheduled yet.

The public outcry in 2013 that prompted Council’s resolution centered on the threat of removal of the decoration, but under the proposed rules, cemetery operations have “sole discretion” to remove, without notice, anything constitutes a “threat to public health or safety or interferes with the operation or maintenance of the cemetery. » Any ornamentation is prohibited except for unplanted or plastic flowers, memorial stones, flags up to 18 inches in length and fabric items – these items may only be placed directly on a memorial or to his left or to his right. Benches that do not serve as headstones are not permitted and trees, shrubs and other plants may be removed immediately without notice. Scheduled cleanings occur after February 1, August 1, and November 1, during which ornaments and decorations may be removed and discarded. At least 30 days prior to these cleanups, PARD will post large signs at the entrances to the five cemeteries and send out alerts via social media and email.

During Monday’s Zoom meeting, participants questioned the transparency and accessibility of the process and expressed concerns about the retroactive application of ornamentation that had previously been authorized. PARD suggested that each burial site may require individual attention from cemetery specialists Tonja Walls Davis Where Jason Walker to ensure compliance; Walls-Davis noted that enforcement and record keeping of the rules since 1978 has been shaky at best. “Unfortunately, we don’t know who gave their approval. [for ornamentation]; we have no record of that approval,” she said. “We will do our best to contact everyone for whom we have information. I guess the most important thing to do is make sure we have their information on file.” Walls-Davis recommended joining the cemeteries mailing list at [email protected] or calling 512 /978-2320 to schedule a meeting.

In November, the draft rules will go through the city’s internal review, and throughout January the public will be able to submit comments through the City Clerk’s Office. The new rules will be adopted in March 2023 – or on appeal and referred for hearing within 30 days.

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