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Residents ask Athens City Council to delay enforcement of rules on cemetery decorations

ATHENS, Ala. - We have an update on a Taking Action story we’ve been following for a few weeks. A father is working to keep the decorations on and around his daughter's grave at Roselawn Cemetery in Athens. Other families are joining him, and Monday night they took their pleas to the Athens City Council in hopes of a compromise.

“I understand that some people never touch their family cemetery plot again. But then there are people like all of us, and that's where we go for birthdays and for holidays and because we've had a bad day at work. That's where we go, and that's where she's at,” Breanna Davis explained to council members.

Impassioned pleas to the Athens City Council, asking for reconsideration of rules governing the placement of decorations and mementos left at the graves in city owned cemeteries. The council recently amended its ordinance to allow for enforcement of rules that have been on the books for years, rules that were not enforced for years. Many families buried their loved ones at Roselawn under the belief the decorations were allowed.

“I would ask the council, respectfully, to suspend enforcing the ordinance just until, say April first when the cutting season really ramps up,” said Michael Lambert, an attorney representing Pat Montgomery. His daughter's grave seems to be at the center of the controversy.

Lambert also asked the council to solicit input from those on both sides of the issue. He thought a public hearing may be useful. He hopes a more specific set of guidelines can be developed that will provide the needed control over the properties while still allowing families to grieve in their own way.

Many families tell us mementos, presents and other items represent their connection to a son or daughter, a sibling, close friend, or a grandchild that was lost. They explain this is part of their grieving process, and gives them comfort. They each understand there must be rules.

“It helps, it really does help. So please, just, do what you can to meet us in the middle,” pleaded Davis.

Council President Joe Cannon offered hope.

“We'll be speaking with the mayor and city attorney and, uh, we need to get this worked out,” Cannon told the audience.

We'll let you know what happens.

By the way, it was explained the council would listen but not take action on the issue at Monday night's meeting. There was no indication whether the city would suspend enforcement of the cemetery rules for now. The Cemetery Department Director, Joe Wiley, refused to speak to WHNT News 19 about the issue.

Some families tell us they have already been forced to remove decorations and benches from the graves of loved ones, but they hope to be able to put some of the decorations back.