An abbreviated version of this letter ran in the August 23, edition of the Madison County Record:
by Missy Frye
Lord Acton once said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This quote came to mind after a recent meeting of the Patrick Cemetery Board. You see, many people think this particular governing body has taken its power beyond the boundaries set forth through tradition and legalities.
As many of you may know, the Patrick Cemetery holds its annual meeting during the yearly decoration, the second Sunday of August. For several years now, there has been discontent among the public who donate to the Cemetery Fund and have family buried there. Some people won’t attend the meetings because they feel their voices aren’t heard. This year was no different.
This isn’t really about the discontent, or the reasons for people’s unhappiness. It’s about power and the spell it weaves. The five members of the board and its secretary have evidently held meetings without informing the public and made decisions without gaining input from supporters.
When I questioned the legality of one of their decisions mayhem ensued. Three of the members walked out of the meeting, stating they quit. One other member remained, but told the public he resigned.
An impromptu election was held to replace these members; the secretary took the minutes, recording the nominations as well as the votes for and against. During the election process, one of the members who walked out returned and stated he wanted to keep his position.
Before the meeting completely disintegrated, three new members were elected, myself among them. It was not something I expected, or even wanted, but ultimately I accepted. I’d hoped tempers would cool enough after a few days to resume business. With this thought in mind, I called the secretary and asked to have a meeting scheduled. The response? Flat out refusal. There were some things she needed to take care of before she could meet with us. Although her response hurt me, I didn’t argue.
A couple days later, I received a call from the secretary. She and one of the old board members had seen a lawyer and he advised them to retain the original board members, effectively nulling the election held during the yearly meeting.
To me, this exemplified the standard of conduct of the individuals making decisions for the cemetery. Do things behind everyone’s back and maybe no one will notice. I noticed. How hard would it have been to tell me they were seeking counsel? What did they expect me to do?
To insure full disclosure, I spoke to an attorney the day after the board meeting. This attorney works for the Arkansas Securities Department and has knowledge of the Arkansas Cemetery Act for Perpetually Maintained Cemeteries. My intention was to find options for maintaining the Patrick Cemetery that would place less of a burden on the public. I also checked into the possibility of applying for non-profit status. I did these things hoping to bring new ideas before the public. You could say I was doing my homework.
However, my efforts were for naught. It’s been proven that those with power, however minimal in the larger scheme of things, won’t let go willingly. Their desire to rule with absolute authority overshadows the wishes of a public that monetarily contributes to their imagined domain. Lord Acton was right.
Do I believe the cemetery board members are bad people? No. But, I think power does funny things to folks. Edmund Burke said it best, “Power gradually extirpates from the mind every humane and gentle virtue.”