City struggles to keep up with cemetery maintenance

Posted 8/27/20

Pahokeeans assist at Port Mayaca on their own Special to the Lake Okeechobee NewsPORT MAYACA — Sam McKinstry (front) and cousin Buddy McKinstry (rear) visited the Port Mayaca Cemetery Monday, Aug. …

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City struggles to keep up with cemetery maintenance


Pahokeeans assist at Port Mayaca on their own

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News
PORT MAYACA — Sam McKinstry (front) and cousin Buddy McKinstry (rear) visited the Port Mayaca Cemetery Monday, Aug. 24, and cleaned up weeds around several family plots that had become somewhat overgrown.

PAHOKEE — Mayor Keith Babb Jr. sought to reassure the public during the commission’s workshop Tuesday, Aug. 25, that officials haven’t forgotten about the cemeteries in Port Mayaca and Pahokee they are bound to maintain.

He asked City Manager Chandler Williamson during discussion preceding the regular meeting, when he did not mention it in his explanation of agenda items, “Do you have anything on the cemetery cleanup since that was such a hot topic on social media — whether or not we had public works go down to assist as much as they could? Any updates concerning the cemetery, including the one on Bacom Point Road; I notice that one was mowed. Do you have any information on that?”

Manager’s update
Williamson replied, regarding the stories people were posting on social media about conditions particularly at the Port Mayaca Cemetery, which belongs to the City of Pahokee:
“It’s not different than we typically get this time of year. We’re in growth season, meaning it rains every other day; the grass has aggressively grown; and we get this response that it’s higher than usual this time of year, so we try to adjust our work crews to get some additional folks out there to address that issue. We are going to do that sometime before the end of this week, hopefully; it depends on the schedule of all of the projects in town, but I just want the public to know that we are aware of that.”

He noted that with the tropical weather season approaching its September and October peaks, public works crews are fighting a constant, daily battle to keep up.

“It settles down around the first of November,” Williamson said, “so we have plans to get some extra crews out there to address some of those areas that appear to be overgrown. It’s not the entire cemetery.”

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News
PAHOKEE — Sam McKinstry posted this photo of some cemetery paperwork he was allowed to look at in a visit to city hall.

He asked for public patience and pointed out that, as the mayor noted, As soon as we can get those crews caught up here in the city, be patient with us … it’s not intentional neglect at all, that’s all over the city, by the way not just in Port Mayaca,” he explained.

New pictures rile up dozens
Meanwhile, some citizens, including Sam McKinstry who drew attention to the overgrown conditions with Facebook posts throughout August, already had gone to the cemetery during the previous few days to do what trimming, trash pickup and cleanup they could. He put a picture up on the “Pahokee Can” page of himself and a cousin after they’d pitched in to help, saying, “It was great seeing family at the cemetery today spraying weeds. Thank you, Buddy McKinstry! Pahokee Patriots (heart) you, cousin!”
Many people chimed in to thank them on various Facebook pages for their efforts.

In a separate post that day, though, Sam McKinstry stirred up more discussion, noting that he’d met with cemetery staff to find out a few things, and proceeded to list them:
“1) The cemetery staff DO NOT handle any portion of the deeds to any plots. That’s entirely the city clerk’s responsibility.

“2) The cemetery staff handle NO funds of any type in regards to deeds or plots.
“3) The cemetery is UNDERSTAFFED and UNDERFUNDED for the size of the land owned and used.
“4) On July 13, an email was sent to the city manager, and other appropriate offices, asking for additional assistance in manpower and funding. It was denied the next day by the city manager, stating he had no one nor the financial resources.
“5) The CM won’t show the supervisor what they are budgeted for day to day expenses; only the yearly, which is just over $80K annually.
“6) If your plot has a border around it, YOU are responsible for the upkeep of what’s INSIDE the borders.
“7) The cemetery staff hasn’t had a raise in over a decade. Supervisor makes $16/hr., an employee with over a decade of service makes $12/hr., and lastly a 6-year employee makes $10/hr. These are just a few of the things I’ve uncovered at the cemetery today,” Sam McKinstry went on.

He added: “It all boils down to the city administration and commission’s malfeasance, blatant neglect and simple … poor management.”

His observations drew dozens of comments and prompted many folks to post their own photos of loved ones’ gravesites.
n response to one commenter, he said he placed no blame on the cemetery staff. “I want you to be fully aware that it’s NOT the fault of the three individuals working there. They simply don’t have what they need.”

cemetery, featured