Herman: Council to call time out on removal of cemetery decorations?


Looks like the Austin City Council is going to get involved in — and possibly block — the Parks and Recreation Department’s plan to force the removal of decorative items from graves at the city-owned Austin Memorial Park on Hancock Drive.

The enforcement of rules long on the books is set to begin Nov. 1. But Council Member Kathie Tovo tells me she’s ready with a resolution, backed by Council Member Mike Martinez, that would instruct city officials to hold off on enforcement until after a comprehensive review of cemetery rules. The resolution is set to be considered at next Thursday’s council session.

Cemetery Manager Gilbert Hernandez has said enforcement is needed because the wide variety of decorations and plantings added by friends and relatives of loved ones buried at Austin Memorial Park have caused maintenance problems and drawn criticism from some people who think some of the items are inappropriate.

Tovo said a time out is appropriate.

“I feel strongly that the city should pursue a broader, more balanced set of rules for grave ornamentation,” she said. “How we remember and memorialize our deceased loved ones is very personal and reflects our different religious and cultural traditions. For many, decorating the graves of loved ones with meaningful objects or plantings is an important part of their grieving process.”

A draft of Tovo’s resolution notes that “for centuries humans have decorated graves with images and objects” and that the city has not consistently enforced the cemetery rules “for many years.” Still to be determined is how far the council can go in issuing orders concerning enforcement of administrative rules.

Some of the rules in effect date back to the 1970s, according to Tovo’s staff. She said rules are needed “to ensure a safe and respectful environment for workers and visitors alike.” But she thinks there’s a way to balance “those needs against the desires of families and friends.”

Good luck with that. I think we are going to find that to be a potentially tricky balance. I’ve made several trips to Austin Memorial Park in the past week and was intrigued by the items placed at graves, including solar lights, a baseball cap, unopened cans of beer, a pair of flip-flops and other items that personalize the burial places. There also are many benches, many of which are not on the purchased grave sites.

Tovo hasn’t been to Austin Memorial Park recently, but plans to get there soon and has reviewed photos provides to her by city staff.

“I would say what I saw in the photos is very traditional in terms of what you might see at most cemeteries that I’ve visited,” she said. “You see plantings. You see statuary and other kinds of personal objects, perhaps a stuffed animal. I haven’t made it through all of the photos but I haven’t seen anything that causes me serious concern.”

But she also understands that the planned rules enforcement was spurred, in part, by complaints from people who believe some of the decorative items don’t belong in a cemetery.

On the front of Sunday’s Insight section, I’ll give you a look at some of the items in the cemetery. I’ll have a video at mystatesman.com from my visit to Austin Memorial Park with Danny Camacho, who has cousins buried there and who believes many of the decorative items are way beyond the bounds of what should be in a cemetery.

Check it out and see what you think. And I’d encourage interested parties to participate in the process concerning the cemeteries.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Police: 2 teens escape from Giddings detention facility
Police: 2 teens escape from Giddings detention facility

GIDDINGS Police: 2 teens escape from detention facility State and local officials in Lee County are searching for two juveniles who escaped a juvenile detention facility Saturday, and are asking the public to be on the lookout, according to the Texas Juvenile Justice Department. Brice Ryan Karalis and Bryan Ernando Villanueva, both 16 years old, escaped...
Fire crews extinguish blaze at downtown Austin hi-rise, officials say
Fire crews extinguish blaze at downtown Austin hi-rise, officials say

Emergency crews have put out a fire at the AMLI on 2nd, a hi-rise building downtown, according to the Austin Fire Department. The fire was reported at about 1:50 p.m. at the 400 block of West Third Street. “[F]ire in trash compactor on first floor is under control,” the department said in a post on Twitter. “Working on final extinguishment...
Washington state man, 73, stuck in car for 12 hours after crash
Washington state man, 73, stuck in car for 12 hours after crash

Washington State troopers and firefighters rescued a 73-year-old man who spent about 12 hours stuck in his car after driving off the road near Tiger Mountain, police said Saturday. Eastside Fire officials said the man was in the car overnight, and that when crews arrived, he appeared to be OK. However, he was taken to the hospital for an evaluation...
Austin Answered: Does clothing recycling keep textiles from landfills?
Austin Answered: Does clothing recycling keep textiles from landfills?

When Simple Recycling’s curbside pickup program was introduced in 2016, speculations arose on how it would affect local nonprofits such as Goodwill and the Salvation Army. In June 2016, Austin approved a 36-month contract with Simple Recycling, an Ohio-based for-profit recycler intended to help Austin achieve its zero-waste goals. The company...
Who is Travis Reinking, the person of interest in the Waffle House shooting?
Who is Travis Reinking, the person of interest in the Waffle House shooting?

Travis Reinking is a 29-year-old man police are seeking in Sunday morning’s shooting at a Waffle House in Antioch, Tennessee. Police issued a murder warrant for Reinking late Sunday morning. Little information has been released by authorities about Reinking, who is from Morton, Illinois.  Police said Reinking sat in his truck in the Waffle...
More Stories