November 27, 2014

Elyria
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No charges to be filed against cemetery

LORAIN — Lorain County Prosecutor Dennis Will said no charges are being leveled against Ridge Hill Memorial Park Cemetery’s Board of Trustees, which the Ohio Department of Commerce found in violation of the board’s bylaws.

Matt Mullins, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Commerce, said the Ohio Cemetery Dispute Resolution Commission’s findings that board members had violated its bylaws were forwarded to the Lorain County prosecutor for review.

The complaint was filed by cemetery association member Harry Williamson Jr., who took issue with three board members — John Dovin, William Hempel and David Dicken — who also are funeral directors. The cemetery’s bylaws prohibit board membership by people who have a financial interest or a competing enterprise or business in selling its product primarily to cemetery associations.

Williamson contends that the board’s choice not to sell burial vaults at the cemetery was made because the sales would take business away from the funeral directors. But board members say that there were liabilities to selling the vaults that led to its decision.

Will said although the board may have violated Ohio Revised Code regarding a violation of the bylaws, pursuing a charge against board members would amount only to a $5 to $50 fine.

“The only applicable statute we could find that applied was not a criminal charge, only a misdemeanor,” he said.
Will said that he advised Williamson that he could pursue a civil lawsuit or make a motion to change the bylaws. Williamson said he is not looking for money, but he will continue to pursue action against the board.

“It’s not really a monetary issue, it’s an ethical issue,” he said.

Williamson spoke at the board’s annual meeting Wednesday, along with John Penton, who criticized the board’s alleged lack of transparency.

Penton, a well-known former motorcycle maker and off-road racer, has long had an issue with the cemetery board. At the meeting, he said he objected to the board changing its agenda at the start of the meeting to hold the election of board members prior to the reading of minutes, rather than after.

“I object to this whole thing,” Penton said at the start of the meeting. “I’m right here, and I’m a member of this longer than you will ever live!”

Penton ran for a spot on the board, along with Williamson, but board member Beverly Corts and Martin Conry were
re-elected. Their terms had expired, necessitating the election. Dovin and Hempel remain on the board, and Dicken has since resigned and was replaced by another funeral director, Mark Reichlin.

Rob White, president of Ridge Hill Memorial Park, led the majority of the meeting, but he did not vote, as he is not a board member. He responded to questions from Williamson, who asked whether employees of Ridge Hill were informed that they could vote during the election.

White said employees were all notified, but many weren’t able to attend as they were working at funerals during the day. But employee Marge Burnsworth, a relative of Williamson, said she had not been notified about the election by White, but she did vote anyway.

White also addressed the Ohio Department of Commerce’s ruling on an alleged violation of bylaws, saying he saw no issue with three of the board members who were employed as funeral directors.

“I do not find that we are in violation of the bylaws at all,” he said. “There was no fine. There was no official record of that.”

In a response to the Ohio Department of Commerce, board member Martin Conry, who also serves as the board’s attorney, wrote that the cemetery ceased selling burial vaults in the 1950s, and the decision not to sell them had nothing to do with a competing interest.

“We have looked into the vault issue. There are many factors which must be considered, including storage, employee training, insurance costs, equipment needed, financing, regulation compliance, zoning, loss of goodwill and other factors,” he wrote. “There are reasons Ridge Hill Memorial Park has not sold vaults in more than 50 years. Very few independent, nonprofit single cemeteries sell vaults.”

The Ridge Hill Memorial Park Cemetery’s Board of Trustees meets monthly, but those meetings aren’t open to the public. Williamson, who said he believed the meetings should be open to the public, said he has asked for copies of monthly minutes and financial reports, but he hasn’t received them.

Legal experts, including an expert on public records, said because the board is not a public entity, it doesn’t necessarily have to provide the information.

“A nonprofit organization isn’t necessarily a public organization,” said public meeting expert Tim Smith. “They can pretty much do what they want.”

Mullins said although Ridge Hill is bound by Ohio law, the board can always change its bylaws.

“We don’t have authority over the bylaws or whether they are changed in the future,” he said.

Contact Chelsea Miller at 329-7123 or cmiller@chroniclet.com.


  • Don Grantzki

    Just gotta ask: Who better to oversee a burial ground than the people who make use of it the most?

    • What-I-Think

      Absolutely agree with you! I would not want a gardner making my meal at Lone Star nor a Hospice Nurse handling a patrolman’s duties.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joe-Gee-Sr/1462222983 Joe Gee Sr.

    If everything is running smoothly and above board. Then why not make their minutes available upon request . to me that sounds like the right thing to do.

  • What-I-Think

    The Board does what they need to do..oversee a business (i.e. the cemetery) and they do so in a manner that deals with Income, Expenses and outlines what came in and what went out, period. Numerous other businesses do the same without putting all the information out for the public. Why does Ridge Hill need to, or be required to, go to that extent?

    They provided those in attendence with the pertinent information. They asked for questions, comments and concerns from the lot owners there and handled those requests with grace and honestly as far as was necessary for all involved (not that anything brought forward to the office staff at any other time is not dealt with accordingly at any other time of year). is theis a perfect operation?…no. Do they make a good attempt for it to be?…yes they do.

    No business runs smoothly whether we like it or not. The difference here is these Board Members (who are voted into their position by the lot owners) meet monthly and account for what occurs at the cemetery.

    We are talking about a Trust worth several million that is closely monitored and we are also talking about selling lots, competitivley pricing fee’s for burials as well as juggling the cost of running the cemetery in a frugal, yet fair manner, to adhere to the praises it gets from the community and lot owners on its beauty.

    I would not want the job for $100 a month (before taxs) that these individuals get. They sell grave markers and have been able to make “some” profit off of the sales. Selling vaults in the past turned a minimal profit and as a business, you make business decisions. They made all aware that while a small profit could be made, the liability involved is not worth the small amount that could be had. Great business sense to me!

    Now..why do Mr. Penton and Mr. Williamson feel the need to push, badger and insult the folks overseeing the cemetery(i.e. the Board) is beyond me. While a suit was filed..no charges came of it. If this Board was truly doing something shady, have no fear that the law would have been involved, fines would be in place and embarrassment would be spread in the newspaper naming names.

    At every meeting it is the same saga…the Board sits down and the name calling begins. They (the Board) are called “crooks”, “thieves” and then lot owners attending are advised that we are being swept down the river with the Boards tall tales and lies. It is sickening to hear this over and over by the same individual.

    I believe the Board members handle themselves graciously with such name calling and finger pointing. John Dovin, Bill Hemple, Martin Conry, Mrs. Corts, and Mark Reichlin held their tongues and should be commended. Mr. White ran the meeting firm yet fair and both he and Ron answered anything asked of them without great detail because…they did not need to and the questions posed were not our business per say.
    When a law is put into place that states ones salary and all other parts of a business need to be placed out for public inspection and critique then it will be one sad state of affiars. For now…all is well in the eys of this viewer (and lot owner).