BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Issues at cemeteries are really a nationwide problem. In Jefferson County, state law supposedly gives a cemetery board the power to address them. Two years after the law was passed, the board still hasn’t met.
Over the past three years, we've received complaint after complaint about unkempt cemeteries in Jefferson County. In May, at Pine Hill cemetery, we found a headstone sitting against a tree with no explanation why.
"Debris is everywhere. It’s never cut. It’s unsafe out here,” Diane White, who has family buried at the cemetery said.
At the time White she said it was so bad, she takes care of her mother’s grave herself.
"If we didn’t come out here on our own and keep mom’s up, we wouldn’t even know where she is,” White said.
It was two years ago we first told you about the formation of the Jefferson County Cemetery board after state lawmakers passed it into law. Why hasn’t the board met yet? We tracked down board member Randy Mathews to try and find out.
"The only way we got wind that we were appointed to the board was through the media,” Mathews said. Mathews says he and other members are still waiting for official notification from lawmakers that they are on the board.
“We're just in limbo and really don't know what to do,” Mathews said.
In February, at least seven people including Mathews were appointed to the board. Mathews says he’s still waiting for official notification from lawmakers. In 2018, we reported that after board members were appointed a joint meeting of the Jefferson County House and Senate delegation must meet to nominate and select a chairman to head the board. The delegation met in August 2018, but out of the 26 members, only eight showed up. At the time, lawmakers said politics were at play but in the same breath said the board needs to meet because issues at cemeteries need to be addressed.
Mathews believes the board, when it officially meets, needs more power. All they can do now is just cut the grass and clean up debris.
"The original bill has teeth in it where you could actually go after the owners and possibly fine and recoup some of the expenses the board would undergo for the maintenance of these properties,” Mathews said.
Mathews doesn’t know if more state control is the answer but says neglected cemeteries are a huge problem that needs attention.
"Either way, it needs to be looked at and studied. We’ve got to find an answer to this. It’s almost embarrassing that I’ve been put on this but not yet given the tools or the direction to take the next step,” Mathews said.
For whatever reason, state lawmakers who played a role in this legislation haven’t gotten back to us yet. When they do, we’ll likely do another story on why it seems they are dragging their feet on this issue.