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Archive for Thursday, April 20, 2006

As cemetery fell into disarray, state officials waited to act

April 20, 2006

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Kansas officials waited four years to take action after owners of a Lawrence cemetery broke the law by failing to file financial disclosure forms that could have revealed widespread problems.

The owners of Lawrence Memorial Park Cemetery now stand accused of looting the cemetery's trust funds during that time span. But a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh said Wednesday that authorities spent those years trying to resolve the matter short of litigation.

"It takes some time," said Stephanie Wing, the spokeswoman.

That was little comfort to Myron King, a Lawrence resident angered at problems with his wife's grave at the cemetery.

"That's the trouble with our government. We make laws but don't enforce them," he said Wednesday.

King added: "If I screw up and don't file my income tax, you can bet a dollar they'd be down here soon. So why can't they do the same for cemeteries?"

The Kansas Attorney General's Office on Tuesday publicized allegations that the cemetery owner, Mike Graham & Associates of Houston, had illegally moved trust funds - money paid for future graves, and to maintain old ones - out of state to a bank account in Alabama. The state has made similar accusations regarding another Graham & Associates property, West Lawn Memorial Gardens Cemetery in Topeka.

A woman answering the phone at the Houston office said the company would have "no comments whatsoever" on the accusations.

State law requires cemeteries to file an annual report about the status of their trust funds. The attorney general's office says that Memorial Park's owners last filed such a report in 2000; Wing said the secretary of state's office last saw the report in 2001.

The office did not ignore the nondisclosure, Wing said. Instead, authorities began negotiations to get the cemetery to obey the law.

"We like to work with them and talk with them to bring them in compliance," Wing said. "We worked with them, and when we couldn't bring them in compliance, that's when we turned it over to the attorney general."

During that time, however, upkeep at the cemetery deteriorated to the point that two dozen surviving relatives complained to the Journal-World in August 2004, saying grass at Memorial Park was so overgrown that gravestones were being covered.

Wing said the matter was referred to Atty. Gen. Phill Kline's office in January 2005. Four months later, Kline's deputies brought a lawsuit against Graham & Associates and a judge placed the cemetery under control of Lawrence City Hall.

Spokesmen for Kline were unavailable for comment Wednesday.

City officials said this week that Lawrence taxpayers have paid more than $103,000 in the past year for upkeep at Memorial Park. That's one reason, Wing said, state authorities were slow to take legal action.

"We do everything we can to keep it in private ownership," Wing said, "because once it's turned over to a municipality, that's money that comes from taxpayers."

Comments

norm 8 years, 8 months ago

"Kansas officials waited four years to take action."

"It takes some time," said Stephanie Wing, the spokeswoman".

The above political apointeee represents one of the more imposing reasons as to why this once proud state has itself fallen into a state of disarray: Politicians have gutted the Civil Service and the regulatory Civil Service staff members cannot implement the rules for fear of retribution from the unclassifed service staff.

I believe it shall only get worse with time; that political hacks and those with a corrupted sense of vision shall be more and more in control to the point that the McCarthyesque nature of today will look like free and open discussion compared to what's coming.

Deal making on a grand scale is alive and well in Kansas.

AlexFenton 8 years, 8 months ago

Even though there were hints at skimming and corruption, and the cemetery was more and more unkempt, Memorial Park remained an in-demand, popular place.

People were just dying to get in.

justthefacts 8 years, 8 months ago

Ah come on Norm.... Since when does having UNION employees (which is what the civil service unit of KS Govt essentially creates) mean the employer is going to provide a better quality of work???

IMO what is really the root cause of government inaction is, in many cases, not a lack of interest or care on the part of officials/employees, but rather - (a) Lack of clear legal authority and/or (b) lack of funding.

The budgets of Kansas state and local government agencies continue to be cut further and further back, while the number of duties and responsibilities they are expected to perform has kept growing and growing.

Unfunded mandates. When that happens, some discretionary things are bound to not get done well, or on time, or even at all.

Anyone who wants the government to do a better job at all the things we've come to expect the government to do for us should be willing to pony up a ton more in taxes.... Anyone who is opposed to paying so much in taxes should get out a red pen and start removing the number of things we expect the government to provide or do!

Just as a family cannot constantly spend more then it makes, without going bankrupt, a government that makes promises to perform services it cannot provide (without more money to pay for the costs of those services) is going to disappoint its "customers" (or completely collapse at some point).

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