Athens to begin clearing decorations from graves next week

ATHENS, Ala. - The president of the Athens City Council says they didn't mean to, but he says they've opened a can of worms. Joe Cannon was talking about changes to rules regarding decorations on graves within city cemeteries. The families involved in the struggle tell us this is part of their grieving process and say they only want a little compassion from the city. But will they get it?

WHNT News 19 is taking action on their behalf.

Ken Gawronski says he and his wife were looking forward to decorating their son's grave at Roselawn Cemetery in Athens. A tribute to a life that lasted only a matter of minutes. But he says they saw our story Wednesday night that featured Pat Montgomery's efforts to keep the decorations at his daughter's grave. And he says they feel the city is acting without compassion.

“What are they thinking, you know? Don't they have better things to do than mess with a grieving father,” Gawronski asks?

Montgomery was back at Michele's grave Friday afternoon, picking up trash and blowing the leaves away.

“Couple of lawyers I talked to today, I didn't even have to tell them what it was about. As soon as i told them my name, they knew what it was about,” Montgomery explained, saying he will likely have to go to Decatur or Huntsville to find an attorney willing to take his case. He says what is and what is not allowed needs to be clearly defined.

“So I’d help them rewrite it where it's pretty cut and dried that certain things are allowed and certain things aren't allowed. It wouldn't be left to somebody's subjective opinion,” Montgomery says in discussing the goals of any legal action he would bring.

Meanwhile, the parents of a young man buried nearby say they were told that the concrete bench they've placed the foot of their son's grave is going to have to go. But 20 feet away is a granite bench they say they were told is okay. At the end of the day you have to ask yourself, if placing those decorations and mementos around that young woman's grave helps that family to grieve, and perhaps to even heal, where is the harm in that?

WHNT News 19 has called and left messages for the city’s cemetery director, Ben Wiley, for two days. He has not returned any of our messages. The city's ordinance requires a permit before any permanent improvements are made to a grave. City workers are expected to begin removing the decorations next week.