Council restricts multi-colored tombs

Thursday, Jan. 19
January 19, 2012
Town halls best way to communicate
January 25, 2012
Thursday, Jan. 19
January 19, 2012
Town halls best way to communicate
January 25, 2012

The Terrebonne Parish Council, in a 7-2 vote, has passed an ordinance requiring all new tombs and vaults in public cemeteries to be painted a uniform white in color. It was a move some in opposition said infringed on personal rights of expression, while supporters said protected the tomb structures and prevented designs that could be considered socially distasteful or offensive from being placed on them.

The new law was proposed by former Dist. 1 Councilman Alvin Tillman prior to his term having expired in December 2011.

Appearing both as a private citizen and former official, Tillman explained the intention of the ordinance before the newly appointed council last Wednesday at their first meeting of 2012.

“This [ordinance] has nothing to do with private cemeteries,” Tillman said. “This piece of legislation appears only for Halfway Cemetery [in Gray] Southdown Cemetery [in Houma] and Bisland Cemetery [in Bourg].”

Tillman said that the concern came to his attention when he was told of a man that intended to paint his friend’s tomb with a black and white zebra print. The former councilman said that not having some guidelines for the painting of tombs could easily get “out of hand” and distract from the peaceful beauty of most public cemeteries.

Support of painting was voiced by Louisiana Archeological Society member Lucretia McBride of Gray, who presented photos of various tombs and discussed how painting tombs enhances preservation from natural elements and enhances a given cemetery’s appearance.

“[Not] all burial vaults are painted,” McBride said. “They are gray in color because that is the color of the cement used. They are not painted or treated for preservation purposes. Many burial ground vaults are in a damaged state … which will be impacted by environmental weather conditions causing damage. After years of weather impact, a non-treated ground burial vault exterior will become home to a number of bacterial and fungal invasions that causes exterior damage [and] the ground burial vault to crack and deteriorate. “

McBride expressed concern that if tombs and vaults were not painted the result would become distasteful and unsafe. “I hope to show the importance of preservation of exterior vaults,” she said.

It was noted that the ordinance called for a uniform painting of white and did not require vaults to have a protective exterior coating.

Councilwoman Beryl Amedee, Dist. 4, who along with Councilman Pete Lambert, Dist. 9, gave descending votes to the ordinance, said she viewed the new law as being a violation to one’s right of expression.

“Painting of tombs is a common practice in our area,” Amedee said. “As a minister … I’ve come across many people who have taken comfort in being able to paint a loved one’s tomb a particular color. I do understand that if you walk into a cemetery and everything is painted the same color it does appear to be more orderly. However … I think our personal rights are being stripped away left and right daily. This [ordinance] restricts [people] to painting only one color n white. The preference [should be] personal preference and if it gives mourners comfort, it is such a small thing.”

Amedee said laws are already in place to restrict graffiti and offensive painting, and that the cemetery ordinance is an overreaction to a concern that may or may not be justified. “We’ve now taken away [citizens’] freedom to express themselves,” she said.

Council Chairwoman Arlanda Williams, Dist. 2, waited for a motion to accept the ordinance only to hear silence. Williams then explained to council members that even if they intend to vote down the measure someone had to make a motion to approve it. The motion to adopt was then made by Councilwoman Christa Duplantis, Dist. 5, and seconded by Amedee.

Other activity during the meeting, that lasted less than one hour, included appointments to various boards. One decision to delay appointments drew particular interest.

Appointments of commissioners to the Bayou Cane Fire Protection District were put off until Jan. 25 when questions arose regarding the residency of two of the 13 applicants.

Councilman Greg Hood, Dist. 3, noted that Frank Davis of 106 Chantilly Drive and Alex Stierlen of 261 Ciera Drive each reside in areas under the jurisdiction of the Houma Fire Department and are not eligible to seek appointment on the Bayou Cane board. With parish redistricting that took place in 2011, it was unclear during the meeting as to where the dividing line fell that would or would not make the two men eligible to serve on the Bayou Cane board. There was also a question as to if applicant Leslie Jones had lived in the district for at least the one year required to serve on an appointed board.

Controversy regarding the Bayou Cane Fire Protection District, due to internal fighting and unsubstantiated allegations, has prompted many parish officials to exercise restraint when dealing with the entity.

Legal counsel Courtney Alcock suggested that the council first check into the questions they have regarding residency qualification of the Bayou Cane applicants. The motion to hold appointments to the Bayou Cane fire board was then made by Councilman Red Hornsby, Dist. 6.

“We have a board that has been operating without a board for a month,” Williams said, “[But] I don’t feel safe on voting on this stuff. I think we need to give the applicants an opportunity to be on the applications and I don’t think two weeks is going to hurt in the process. I’d rather error on the side of caution rather than appoint, reappoint and reappoint again.”

The council also held over decisions to appoint board members for Recreation District 1, the Terrebonne Parish Tree Board and the Bayou Blue Fire Protection District due to a lack of applicants.

Fire district boards that had appointments made by the council included: the Coteau Fire Protection District with Robert Lee and Robert Parr; the Fire Protection Dist. 4 with Louis Pitre and Kirby Verret; Fire Protection Dist. 5 with Jan Rogers; Fire Protection Dist. 6 with A.J. Cavalier and Glynn Martin; Fire Protection Dist. 7 with Cecil Lapeyrouse, Carroll LeBoeuf and Reiley LeBoeuf; Fire Protection Dist. 9 with Mickey Adams, Lynn Giroir and Riley Gros; Fire Protection Dist. 10 with Claude Hebert and Jeffery Hill; and the Village East Fire Protection District with Kenneth Colwart, Tony Martin and John Roy.

Completed appointments included: Katie LeCompte to the Downtown Development Corp., Patricia Cazes to the Houma Housing Authority, John G. Hebert and Rev. Colonel Fazzio to the Houma Public Trust Financing Authority, Richard Elfert, Jeremy Kelly, Gerald Schouest and Wayne Thibodeaux and Marsha Williams to the Houma-Terrebonne Regional Planning Commission, Arlanda Williams to the South Central Planning and Development Commission, Michael Voisin to the Terrebonne Economic Development Authority, and Earl Eues to the Terrebonne Parish Communications District.

Additional appointments to be held over for two weeks applied to the Broadmoor Tree Fund Advisory Committee and the South Louisiana Wetlands Discovery Center.

Painted tombs at Southdown Cemetery in Houma display an array of colors. Future tombs at Southdown as well as two other public cemeteries must be painted white. MIKE NIXON