“I would like to request Supervisor Vander Poel that you launch an investigation to look more closely into these concerns….” was the message from Tulare City Council member Jose Sigala to the Board of Supervisors (BOS) Tuesday morning at their regular meeting.
Dismayed by the number of bodies being disinterred at the Tulare Public Cemetery District (TPCD) Sigala made a statement during public comment to alert the BOS of the situation.
“As you, I was appalled to hear of the recent incidents at the cemetery regarding the placement of loved ones in the wrong burial plots and then their disinterment to rectify the horrible mistake. It appears that the recent event is not the only case in which this has happened,” stated Sigala.
“Unfortunately, there may be more.”
Indeed there are.
After the Valley Voice reported on March 19 that the TPCD has dug up eight bodies in the last five years, two more families have come forward with their stories.
In reference to her husband’s burial in January, Kerri Nelson-Hughes said, “I thought the morning of his service something wasn’t right, but people were already arriving for the service.”
According to the Ewing family, “They buried someone in one of our plots. My wife saw the fresh grave and called them, the person was reburied the next day.”
It has not been confirmed if the family of the alleged reburied body was notified by the cemetery.
The TPCD March 25 meeting will be 11:00am at 469 N. Cherry St. in Tulare. Agendized is a discussion on how the cemetery can prevent burying bodies in the wrong graves in the future. The public is welcome.
Health and Safety Code
Section 9069.10 of the Health and Safety Code states, “An interment right does not include the right for disinterment of human remains except on consent of the cemetery district and the written consent of the surviving spouse, child, patent, or sibling, in that order of priority.”
But the decision to disinter several of the bodies at TPCD was not brought to the board. According to Trustee Alberto Aguilar, who stated that he knew nothing of the double disinterment, the decision “was solely made by TPCD Chair Xavier Avila and Cemetery Manager Leonor Castaneda.”
Consent from the families to dig up the bodies of their loved ones has also been a grey area.
In the case of the double disinterment that occurred on March 8, Maricela Martinez said that Castaneda did not ask, but informed, the Martinez family that her grandfather would be disinterred on Monday morning.
Nelson-Hughes said of her husband’s disinterment that Castaneda “immediately informed me very rudely ‘that’s the only day we can do it’”
Nelson-Hughes said of her experience, “the way she spoke to me that day I would have fired her and not have thought twice about it…. First of all you don’t talk to customers like that, and you damn sure don’t talk to grieving family like that especially when the cemetery is the one that made the mistake!”
Reaction from Sigala’s statement
Both Avila and Audit Committee member Linda Maloy voiced their displeasure about Sigala’s statement on his facebook page.
“You need to get more info before you spout off on something you know nothing about!” Said Maloy.
“It’s not your place to interfere with a special district,” Avila told Sigala.
Maloy went on to say, “Keep making a big deal out of this before the board can even resolve it. Watch what happens!”
“Sounds like you are threatening me for speaking up? Am I reading you correctly?” Said Sigala.
Maloy responded, “Requesting you have all the info before you make yourself look foolish. Your statement does make you look foolish.”
Sigala ended the conversation with, “No need to worry about whether I look foolish or not. I am using my position as an elected official to speak up. Anyone who knows me knows that I speak out and that’s what I do whether it is against Carlton Jones, Dr. Benzeevi, Dr. Kumar, President Trump or others. … I do appreciate your concern over my image.”
Sigala’s Press Release
The following was issued after the TCBOS meeting.
STATEMENT BY TULARE COUNCIL MEMBER JOSE SIGALA TO THE TULARE COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS REGARDING LAUNCING AN INVESTIGATION INTO THE TULARE CEMETERY DISTRICT
(Tulare – CA) Today, Tulare City Council Member Jose Sigala provided public comment to the Tulare County Board of Supervisors regarding the Tulare Cemetery District.
“The recent news about the disinterment of two individuals who were buried in the wrong plots and the impact and devastation it had on their families pushed me to speak out and ask that everything be done for this to not happen again”, stated Council Member Sigala.
This incident and others the Council Member has heard about over the last few months and year about the cemetery district, which include fiscal mismanagement, board infighting and lack of public trust, are the reasons he is pressing Supervisor Vander Poel to assert his oversight and investigate and fix what is wrong at the cemetery district.
Here is the public comment provided by Council Member Sigala:
“Good morning Madame Chair & Supervisors, this is Council Member Jose Sigala from the City of Tulare. I am also calling today to share some concerns I have received regrading the Tulare Cemetery, its Board and staff.
As you, I was appalled to hear of the recent incidents at the cemetery regarding the placement of loved ones in the wrong burial plots and then their disinternment to rectify the horrible mistake. It appears that the recent event is not the only case in which this has happened.
Unfortunately, there may be more. This recent incident is one of many concerns residents have with the board and its management.
The Grand Jury has looked into some of the concerns and I am not sure what the outcome has been. Concerns which include fiscal mismanagement, board infighting and public district about the lack of transparency should be something of interest to you.
I would like to request Supervisor Vander Poel that you launch an investigation to look more closely into these concerns given the oversight you as a Supervisor and appointing authority have along with the county with overseeing this board.
The county needs to initiate an investigation and make sure this awful incident affecting families never occurs again by reviewing policies, procedures and protocols. I appreciate your utmost attention to this request and look forward to your involvement in the matter.
“It is my expectation that Supervisor Vander Poel use his authority over this board to make sure horrific situations like those reported do not happen again”, concluded Sigala.