BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) - There’s a big development in the CBS 42 investigation which we have reported on more than any other station over the last three weeks- involving the sudden, unexplained closure of George Washington Carver Memorial Gardens cemetery.
Fireworks flew at the Thursday Town Hall meeting called in response to the community concern caused by its closure. People packed the auditorium of Jackson Olin High School in Birmingham which did not have enough seats for everyone. However there was one distinctive absence that the organizer called attention to and that was anyone who could speak on behalf of the cemetery.
State Representative Juandalynn Givan took issue with the lack of representation from the cemetery's ownership.
"And I'm going to call out Mr. Louie Reese III tonight. I've been trying not to call him out, but he's hiding behind high paid lawyers downtown whose offices are more plush than our homes could ever be. Who has taken our money," said State Rep Juandalynn Givan, (D.) Jefferson County.
She also read from a statement attributed to an attorney on behalf of the cemetery.
“This is the portion of that letter that really burns me up. ‘The cemetery asks for your patience during this period of transition’,” said Givan.“…’During this period of transition the grounds are open to those wishing to visit their loved ones. The cemetery maintains a perpetual care trust fund’ -which represents the point Rod Scott is going to speak on later- ‘with significant funds on deposit that help provide for the continued management of the cemetery grounds’," she continued.
As CBS 42 pointed out earlier this week- the Alabama Dept. of Insurance defines all cemeteries in the state as endowment care cemeteries if they have charged fees for interment rights after April 30, 2002 with a couple of exceptions. The ALDOI.gov website outlines the description and the requirements of these cemeteries, which include submitting annual reports related to endowment care trust funds.
“Each endowment care cemetery must submit an Annual Report of Endowment Care Trust Fund. This report along with a statement of the activities of the Endowment Care Trust must be submitted to the Commissioner with 90 days of the close of each calendar year. The report requires disclosure of the amount held in trust at the end of both the current and prior year.”- Source: ALDOI.gov.
A representative of the Alabama Department of Insurance says George Washington Carver Memorial Gardens has never filed one of those reports.
“George Washington Carver Memorial Gardens have never held a certificate of authority to sell preneed cemetery merchandise and services. The company has never filed an annual endowment care trust report,” said Mark Fowler, Alabama Department of Insurance, Governmental Relations Manager.
The family of civil rights Martyr Virgil Ware and his recently deceased father James Ware, Sr. are fed up with the situation at the cemetery where both are buried. The funeral for James Ware Sr. was one of the last to be held before the office inexplicably closed last month.
"We just basically had to fight with them to even cover up my grandfather's grave and what I'm more concerned about too- that cemetery should be a civil right landmark because my uncle is buried there and a couple of years ago TIME magazine actually raised money and had his body exhumed from an unknown cemetery moved over there so I'm concerned with that cemetery in all. You know it's just a disgrace and it's a shame," said Melony Ware.
We spoke to Melvin Ware about his father's passing before that funeral and got the chance to follow up with him on Thursday. He says the family had no idea this was coming.
"This is where he wanted to be, but if I had known that this controversy was going to occur like this, I...you know we'd have had second thoughts I believe, but that was his last request that he be, his remains beside my mom here and of course there with Virgil," said Melvin Ware.
"What I'm hoping for Mike is that the right people come over to you know take over the management and get this back under control the way it's supposed to be and I'm hoping that they do it real soon, " he continued.
"We're going to discuss it again this weekend, but surely if I'd have known about this we'd have thought about it some more and…and you know we'd have made a, we'd have made another decision I, I, I believe."
The elected leaders on hand at the Town Hall meeting encouraged people with documentation of purchases at the cemetery to make copies of that information and send it to the Alabama Department of Insurance and other state offices.
They also passed out flyers with mailing addresses for the Alabama Department of Insurance, the Alabama Attorney General, and the Governor's Office.
"We really are encouraging you to bring forward whatever issue or whatever complaint you have with George Washington Carver memorial Gardens. It's very important that the Alabama Department of Insurance have a request for assistance form is filled out expressing what your concerns are. Whether or not you have a loved one buried at the site because of a maintenance issue or whether or not you have preneed contracts that will not be fulfilled because of the closure," said State Representative Rod Scott (D.), Jefferson County.
Multiple emails and phone calls left for one of the attorneys reported to represent the owner of the cemetery have not been returned since Sunday.
The emails requested clarification about whether or not the attorney does represent the cemetery, its management, or ownership and if so- what plans may be in place to address the concerns of the community.
The other attorney’s name just surfaced Thursday. We left a message by phone and sent an email, but both happened right around 5 p.m. which is frequently a close of business for many offices.
We will continue to follow up on this story and report new developments as information becomes available.
Copyright WIAT-TV CBS 42
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