WATER VALLEY – A scheduled executive session of the city board last Tuesday, Feb. 19, was changed to a public discussion at the request of William Beard, supervisor of the cemetery and parks department.
The subject was the board’s decision on Feb. 11 to allow private firms to handle work normally performed by Beard’s department. The aldermen voted to allow a commercial business to open and close graves at the cemeteries. They also voted to advertise for bids for a grass cutting service.
Both votes were held immediately after the board came out of executive session at the Feb. 11 meeting.
“Rumor has it that there is destroyed head markers,” Beard said at the beginning of his comments to the alderman. He did acknowledge that a headstone had been damaged.
The Herald published a question from a reader in the Feb. 21 edition that asked about broken markers and outlined other problems at the Oak Hill Cemetery.
Beard expressed concern about the amount of money leaving the city if outside firms are allowed to dig graves. He gave an example that if the Morgan firm from Charleston dug the same number of graves as his department at $350 each, about $17,000 would leave Water Valley.
Last year Beard’s department dug 42 graves at Oak Hill Cemetery on Blackmur Drive and seven at Oak Ridge Cemetery on Stephens Street. He said the city made $9,800 at a charge of $200 each.
“Basically what I am asking is have I done anything wrong,” Beard questioned. “I need a reason why it is being taken away from me.”
Alderman Sherry Martin responded, “Our thinking was that it would free you up to do other things that you don’t have time to do.”
Beard then proposed a schedule for cutting grass at the Crawford Sports Complex. He estimated one day to cut the four fields and the breezeways, half a day on the soccer fields and the tennis courts, and one day for the outside and around the walkways.
Additionally, he estimated that he could cut both cemeteries in two days based on an eight to nine hour day. “I can do this work.” he added. “I have done it before and I can do it again.”
“What it boils down to is that you can’t cut it all,” Alderman Tommy Swearengen injected. “On paper it looks good, but doing it is two different things.”
Beard asked, “If you take all of this away from me, what do you need me for?”
After additional discussion of the problems encountered last year, Alderman Martin said, “We’ve already advertised, so what we can do is see what prices come in.”
Martin said that she would rather keep the money in town. “But, there were a lot of complaints last year,” she added.
Alderman Swearengen said that he got a lot of complaints as well. “William, you are not doing your job is what it boils down to.”
Alderman Martin suggested that the board look at the quotes and see if the work can be handled at a lower cost.
“Why don’t we try it until April when we get the grass bids in and see how it works and reevaluate,” Mayor Bill Norris said at the conclusion of the discussion.
Beard asked for the board’s word that they would review the situation in April.
In other action by the board of aldermen:
• Representatives of New York Life Insurance Company requested permission to speak with city employees regarding coverage for long-term care. Alderman decided that the agents should come before the board at the next meeting to explain the plan.
• Bonnie Cox of the Chamber of Commerce came before the board to present entries in the city flag and motto contest. Cox presented each flag design and read comments from the submitting artists which explained their entries.
Instead or presenting every one of the motto entries, she suggested each member of the board select their favorite and then vote on them at the next meeting.
Cox explained that one of the entries had been sent by overnight mail service and had not arrived in time for the presentation. The former resident – who now lives in Memphis – asked for permission to redo the submission and resubmit it. The board agreed to look at it at the next meeting.
Mayor Norris explained that production of the city flag would take about three weeks and he hoped to unveil it at the Founders Day celebration on April 19.