A judge's order transferring ownership of Memorial Park Cemetery to the City of Lawrence is good news.
The city has been maintaining the cemetery for almost three years after the property fell into serious disrepair. The previous owners, Mike Graham and Associates, were found to have failed in their legal responsibility to maintain the property using funds held in trust for that purpose.
As part of the settlement announced Wednesday, Mike Graham & Associates will be barred from operating a cemetery in Kansas again. And the permanent maintenance fund that had been held by the company during the legal dispute has been turned over to the city.
The Kansas Attorney General's office also has determined that the firm illegally moved cemetery trust funds to a bank outside of Kansas and accepted money for burial plots and other services that it did not provide. The AG's office will be responsible for distributing funds from another part of the settlement to people who had to pay a second time for services they already had prepaid.
City officials were delaying comment Wednesday afternoon until they were able to examine the settlement, but the basics of the ruling seem favorable to the city and to taxpayers. Transferring the maintenance fund will help defray the city's costs to take care of the property, and transferring the ownership allows the city to invest in significant cemetery projects that it hesitated to undertake when it didn't own the property.
Wednesday's decision is especially good news for anyone with loved ones buried in Memorial Park. In the months before the city stepped in, the cemetery wasn't being mowed and gravestones and common areas had fallen into disrepair. City officials didn't have any particular interest in taking over the cemetery, but they did the right thing by stepping in and dealing with the deplorable situation just before Memorial Day in 2005.
It's sad that any company would take advantage of individuals and families at such a stressful time. It's good that at least some of the money paid into the maintenance fund now will be turned over to the city. It is hoped that the cemetery won't become a drain on limited city resources, but maintaining Memorial Park is an important public service for Lawrence residents.