On Your Side: Three years later, Jefferson County cemetery board still hasn’t met

Jeff.Co cemetery Board

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Three years ago, state lawmakers created a board to keep a check on neglected cemeteries in Jefferson County, but the board still hasn’t met yet. What’s the hold up?

Its been almost a year since Randy Matthews, who was appointed to the Jefferson County cemetery board, sat down with us to talk about his frustrations with why the board hasn’t met yet.

He and other board members still haven’t received official notification from lawmakers.

“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,” Rand Matthews, appointed to the Jefferson County cemetery board said at the time.

The law creating the board passed in 2017. Board members were appointed by lawmakers in 2018. The board is supposed to oversee or enforce maintenance for all for-profit cemeteries.

While we still wait for lawmakers to act, we are constantly receiving complaints about issues with local cemeteries. George Washington Carver cemetery is one of them. Cassandra Harris is still trying to figure out where her dad is buried there.

“It’s already hard enough that my dad is gone, I miss him and I just want to sometime be able to go out if I want to say a little prayer or put some flowers down and right now I haven’t been able to do that for the last year or so and it’s hard,” Harris said.

The owner didn’t want to go on camera, but blames the missing graves on poor record keeping. The cemetery has been investigated by the On Your Side Investigators in the past.

The cemetery manager did not want to talk to me in 2017. This comes after Ronda Montgomery says a day before she was supposed to bury her 96-year-old mother, she got a call from the cemetery saying there’s not enough room to bury her. She eventually had her mother cremated because she was tired of dealing with the cemetery.

“I just never dreamed something like this would happen when I got to lay her to rest,” Montgomery said.

There’s little to no state regulation over cemeteries. Families say that needs to change.

“I’ve been receiving phone calls over the last six months where residents are still having issues at cemeteries,” Birmingham City Council President William Parker said.

Birmingham City Council President William Parker worked with the community to help pass the law. He says there may be some action soon to try and change the language of the law to get the board up and running.

“We’re going to be working with community stakeholders, with the Jefferson County delegation as we move forward over the next couple of months to make sure that House Bill 34 will be fully in effect in early 2021,” Parker said.

We’re still waiting to hear back from state lawmakers who in the beginning were very vocal about the need for this law.

As for some of the issues at Carver cemetery, after out recent visit, the owner says they were able to locate graves for two of the families who contacted us. They claim the graves had been covered with dirt during other burials.

They still can’t find Cassandra Harris’ father, but said they’ll keep looking.

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