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Commissioners won't sign Andreotta's letter to Cemetery Commission

An effort by one Henderson County commissioner to intervene on behalf of families aggrieved at the condition of Shepherd Memorial Park stalled when other commissioners said it was better to hold off.


Commissioner Daniel Andreotta announced at the tail end of 6½-hour Board of Commissioners meeting Wednesday afternoon that he had drafted a letter to N.C. Cemetery Commission urging the regulatory board to bring about a "swift resolution" to the problem of overgrown grass. The cemetery owners locked the gates to the large graveyard over the weekend because of what they described as threats to employees and security concerns.

"There's not a whole lot we can do at the county level but I did promise that we, or I at least, would send a letter to the North Carolina Cemetery Commission just letting them know that the issue has our attention and our interest," Andreotta said before reading the letter aloud.

Andreotta noted that Thos. Shepherd & Son Funeral Directors is one of the oldest businesses in town.

"I realize this business has encountered difficulty in recent months," he said in the letter, adding he was not familiar with the details of that. The N.C. Board of Funeral Service suspended the funeral home's license in November pending resolution of a series of regulatory violations before the full board.

"My biggest concern is with recent developments related to the cemetery property," Andreotta wrote. "Several residents have reached out to me with anguish and frustration over being denied access to their loved ones' final resting place. They see no reason for access to be denied and believe themselves to be property owners, as it were, and have had access to their property for decades. This has caused great pain for some of our citizens at key times in their lives, such as the anniversary of a loved one's passing, a wedding anniversary or a birthday, etc." Many veterans are buried there, he added, and "Memorial Day is just around the corner."

"We stand ready to be of help to your Commission in addressing these concerns," he told the Cemetery Commission, concluding that he hoped local people "will be comforted by a swift resolution."

"We are positive and hopeful for the Shepherd organization, " Andreotta told commissioners, "but it is a concern, it does affect us all. I have loved ones that were buried there not too many months ago."

Commissioner Michael Edney objected to sending the letter from the full board.

"My brother's out there and my father's out there," he said. "But I've had relationships with the Shepherds over the years so I reached out to them to see what's going on. The biggest issue is the lack of people willing to work. They haven't had enough people on staff to do what needed to be done. That is being remedied."

"Those issues led to some conflicts and some threats to the staff out there," leading the owners to lock the gate last weekend, Edney said. "As I understand it, going forward that's probably not going to continue and it will be back to normal, assuming people act normal and decent and not crazy."

He opposed sending the letter to the Cemetery Commission. "I think Raleigh already knows anyway," he said. "Haven't seen a lot of good come from Raleigh for quick fixes for anything. I would tell folks that I'm informed that things are going to be OK."

Commissioners David Hill, Rebecca McCall and Bill Lapsley agreed with Edney that there was no need to send the letter over all their signatures as long as the cemetery grounds are mowed and the memorial park remains open.