Plotholders in the Blue Mountain Cemetery will be included in discussions about the cemetery’s rules and maintenance. The decision came after a meeting with the cemetery board of directors last Thursday, January 14.
The meeting was a followup to protests from plotholders that cemetery association secretary-treasurer Teresa Bach-Tucker had removed decorations from gravesites with little communication with the families of those buried in the sites. For many of the plotholders, the manner in which the non-compliance was handled was more of a problem than the regulations themselves. The meeting received area-wide publicity when Joe Puma, whose mother is buried in the cemetery, wrote a letter to Saugerties Times about the incident.
Plotholders did not attend a previously scheduled meeting to discuss the issue because, they said, they were not informed that it was taking place.
While discussion ranged from disagreement with past practices at the cemetery to suggestions for improvement, nearly every speaker began by praising the beauty of the Blue Mountain Cemetery, which one called the most attractive in Ulster County. A good deal of the resentment was resolved at the meeting, at which the board agreed to work with a committee of plotholders to review the regulations and their enforcement, as well as to suggest ways in which the cemetery would function.
The committee, in addition to relaying the opinions and feelings of the plotholders to the board, would undertake projects to improve the cemetery.
Getting the word out
The meeting followed Bach-Tucker’s October 25 removal of lights and decorations from the graves, which she had determined violated the rules, including prohibitions against such items as benches, plants and excessive decoration. Gravesites that were in violation of the rules were posted with letters warning that the decorations would be removed if the plotholders did not remove them. In early October, Bach-Tucker began removing prohibited items from the graves, following the posting of notices on the graves.
Joe Puma, whose father is buried in the cemetery, argued that the way the removal was accomplished left many plotholders feeling that their loved ones’ graves had been desecrated. In particular, the removal of solar-powered lights, which plotholders said were not prohibited, caused tears and anger, Puma said.
A lack of communication between the board and gravesite owners was a large part of the problem, several plotholders said at the meeting. Legal notices of the new regulations and the warning to remove prohibited items were published, but audience members noted that these are not routinely read.
“We’re in the 21st century, you need to keep up with the times,” urged Cheryl Wright. “Put it on Facebook, put it on the town web page. It costs nothing to put announcements on the page, and people read it.”
“I came on following what the other [previous] secretary had done, and what they felt was customary,” Bach-Tucker said.
Puma said the regulations in other cemetery associations were written in a manner that made the regulations clear and prevented much of the resentment that had occurred at Blue Mountain. “If Sunny [cemetery board president Sunny Salido] were here, he would tell you, I was told to take my bench out, and I did,” said Puma. “I have complied every time. My neighbors in my section, most of them are here. When there were unsightly flowers that were supposed to be taken out by the staff, we did it. We have done all we can to try to work with you.”
Some of the plotholders questioned the procedure for replacing board members who leave or retire. In general, board members propose other plotholders to serve on the board when there’s a vacancy, Bach-Tucker explained. “The board votes on the proposed new members at its May meeting. Not many people show a lot of interest, so board members reach out to people that they know, that are plot owners, and ask them to be part of the board.”
“I think the community should be involved in board member selection. I don’t know that that’s ever happened. It seems like you guys are talking to each other,” said Patricia Hughes.
Bach-Tucker reiterated that the board has always met the legal requirement to advertise its meetings and its board vacancies. “I’ve been involved for 40 years, and we’ve done that [advertised],” she said, “and there has been very little input from the public.”
Board member John Finger pointed to the lack of participation.
“I’ve been on this board for three years, and I’ve never seen more than two or three, other than board members, at any of these meetings,” said Finger. “It kind of makes you feel like nobody cares. We’re nine board members, and we come up for election every three years; it’s staggered. Every year one comes up. But why couldn’t we have a committee that’s not on the board to attend the board meetings and work with the board?”
Bach-Tucker suggested that interested plotholders make a note on the sign in sheets to indicate their interest in serving on such a committee. From the reaction of the participants, there seemed little doubt that Puma would become the committee head.