Brownfield Battle Over Cemetery Codes Leaves Families Furious

BROWNFIELD, TX - Local families gathered at a cemetery in Terry County to voice their displeasure with management. They said they were upset that several long-standing rules, which were hardly enforced over the past two decades, were now to be followed.

"Those are the laws that should have been enforced over 20 years ago and they were never enforced, and now they're enforcing them," said Brenda Epps, who buried multiple relatives at the Brownfield Cemetery.

The regulations included removing all items from the grave site, except for the headstone.

Those rules, which the Terry County Cemetery Association said is a combination of local and state regulations, were to be enforced starting January 1, 2017. A sign out front of the cemetery listed the new enforcement policy.

Many frustrated families explained that they help maintain their loved ones' plots, and that maintenance crews have done little to keep the property in good condition.

Epps said families should be allowed to place any items they choose at grave sites, "as long as we're keeping up with our loved ones' plots."

"Had they enforced the rules from the beginining everybody here would have had the option and the choice to say either 'Ok I want to buy [a plot], or I don't want to buy,'" said Amanda Rubio, who has a family member buried at the Brownfield Cemetery.

Nearly 50 people showed up to the cemetery on Wednesday, where they confronted members of the Terry County Cemetery Association.

"I feel their pain, they don't think we do, but we do," said Cemetery Association President James Steele.

"We had to set these rules and some people who were maintaining their own and were doing a good job and it looked nice, are having to take up some of their stuff," he added. "What we're striving for is 10-20 years from now, mowers can go from one side to the other so this thing can be maintained with a minimum of expense."

"We're trying to simplify this for the people 20-30 years down the line, we'll be able to maintain this cemetery, and it won't revert back to the State of Texas who will come in and take over if it's not maintained," Steele stated.

According to Steele, two town hall meetings were held in 2016 to address the upcoming removal of personal items. He said the conversation began in 2015. Steele said Wednesday's dispute could have been avoided if the families had more patience.

"We had a lot of hostility," Steele said. "I wish the people were better informed before they got mad at us."

Epps suggested "grandfathering" in certain plots that have been maintained properly by family members, to ease some of the tension of removing items entirely. Steele said that would not be a possibility.

"I understand 100 percent where they're coming from," he mentioned. "A big part of it is change, a big part of it they like to say this is tradition. A lot of it comes from 'this is mine, I paid for it,' and they just didn't really understand that 'Yes but it comes with responsibility and rules.'"

Steele acknowledged the cemetery had a maintenance problem, and hoped the association would be able to work with families moving forward.

"I still don't think that it is fair that these people have to make drastic changes, because of their negligence," said Rubio. "What I would like is for everything to be left as it was, because that's what we've been doing for years."

Steele said the guidelines apply to three cemeteries in the area that are managed by the association.

"Not only have they changed things, they've hurt our feelings, they've hurt the way that we can express our loss," said Epps.



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