Cemetery owners welcome crackdown

Published 12:21 pm Saturday, November 17, 2007

By Staff
The death of a loved one should be followed by healing and hope. Not concern over the future of the cemeteries where they laid their loved ones to rest.
Today, a few individuals from outside Michigan, including Oklahoma oilman Clayton Smart, stand accused of robbing 28 Michigan cemeteries of $70 million – money the cemeteries' previous owners had set aside to maintain those cemeteries now and in the future.
We cannot allow the resting places of our loved ones to be put at risk.
That's why cemetery owners across Michigan have joined together with Attorney General Mike Cox, the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth, legislators and other leaders to protect the financial integrity of our cemeteries and keep out modern-day grave robbers looking to cash in.
That's why I support – and urge our Legislature to approve – a proposal that would safeguard the trust fund money, and protect Michigan's families and our beautiful private cemeteries.
The proposal would tighten control of cemetery trust funds and ensure all cemetery owners follow high standards. It prevents new cemetery owners from acting on trust funds for at least six months; improves background checks of new cemetery owners; toughens penalties against cemetery owners who violate trust funds; and tightens overall control of the trust funds.
The fact is that the vast majority of cemetery owners in our state follow the highest standards. We welcome proposals that can help us serve Michigan families better, while strengthening the trust that is the foundation of our relationship with our community.
We aim to provide excellent service and we want families to be able to hold us accountable.
That's our goal not just because it's a commonplace business mantra, but because we firmly believe in standing alongside our communities, helping families plan and conduct one of the most important, intimate and sensitive rituals in life – the rite of death.
Funerals are sacred. It is a time when ordinary people confront mortality, when families and survivors recognize the narrow, finite horizons of existence and celebrate – even amid their sorrow – the rich lifetime of memories between the bookends of birth and death.
As a cemetery owner, I witness this most elemental moment of human life up close. I feel the deep ache of their sorrow.
As a cemetery owner, I am outraged when predators and thieves rob from families confronting the death of a loved one. I share their anger. And I want to do something about it.
When someone robs from cemeteries, they are harming families – and also family-owned businesses. Cemetery owners live and work in the community. We are focused on building trust, and we applaud proposals that can help us strengthen our relationships with our neighbors, our friends, our fellow citizens.
My cemetery's relationship with the community spans generations, and we plan to remain a presence in the community for many generations to come.
The Smart saga stole some of the trust we have spent generations building. We must now earn that trust back – and it begins with toughening our standards and making our business more accountable.