Heartburn for Tulare Cemetery District constituents over pay raises, grounds upkeep

In 2017, the Tulare Public Cemetery District (TPCD) grounds were in such bad shape it launched a grassroots movement that resulted in the office staff absconding into the night and the resignation of the entire board.

Five years later, with a new board of trustees, more groundskeepers, and a new staff at more than double the pay, is the cemetery in better shape?

The answer is debatable.


Sunken graves, weeds and broken pipes

While members of Caring Cause – Support Tulare Public Cemetery District Facebook page have praised some of the positive changes at the cemetery, other problems have seemingly popped up to take their place.

During the June 23 cemetery district meeting several people spoke during public comment about weeds, broken grave markers, and standing water so deep that it covered the graves in the Northwest quadrant of the cemetery on Kern St.

The district consists of two cemeteries, Kern Street and North.

A sunken grave at the Kern Cemetery in Tulare. Courtesy/Marsha Zaragoza

Marsha Zaragoza posted a picture on Caring Cause of a sunken grave at Kern Cemetery.

“This is my mom’s grave I just went and saw this and I’m in complete shock. My heart just dropped when I saw it.”

Gail Scaife added, “This happens all the time at the North Cemetery! I’ve been complaining about it for years! !! I don’t think they compact the dirt well enough. Can’t always blame it on a broken pipe either! It’s happened to my son’s grave twice and my nephew’s also.”

Cheryl Borba commented, “Sonora Street is horrible. Grass not mowed and weeds growing over graves.

Emily Rebelo expressed her anger, “it made me sick when I got there this afternoon.  They should be ashamed the place looks horrible.”

Sandee Otto commented, “They just don’t care, so sad. Our loved ones final resting place and it looks like this.”

Courtesy photo

Gail Scaife wrote, “Did we have another pipe break at the north cemetery. Seems like this is happening all the time. Do the groundsmen not know that you have to compact the dirt over the graves after they are filled to allow for the sinking. Again there are a lot of spots that have large holes near graves….. There are so many holes, none of the headstones line up some are high, some are low, some are bigger than others. Shouldn’t there be some consistency?”


After receiving complaints about the condition of graves after two recent burials, Trustee Alberto Aguilar walked the grounds to take a look for himself. In an email to Office Manager Clara Bernardo he states,

“Clara, I also informed you and David of the neglect and deplorable condition of the cemetery grounds that I photographed and reviewed with both of you. David agreed that the grounds were very, very bad and the reason was due to not being staffed properly.”

Bernardo agrees that the cemetery has hit a couple of bad months.

Courtesy photo

In an email to the Valley Voice she stated, “Concerns of condition of grounds are valid. The grounds are not at our best nor even near our best. ……  For over a month we have been about 2 down between health and light duty issues that leaves us with 6 grounds men to handle 2 cemeteries with a total for over 50 acres.”

Bernardo’s full response to the Voice‘s request for comment can be viewed by clicking here.


Founder of Caring Cause says grounds look better than in 2017

Elaine Hollingsworth, founder of Caring Cause, says the grounds look 100% better than they did in 2017.

“I mean, it was a real potter’s field,” she said.  “It was bare dirt back then, at least now the weeds are green,” said Hollingsworth.

Hollingsworth said that sometimes the cemetery looks beautiful and sometimes it does not. “The main problem has been consistency,” said Hollingsworth

Hollingsworth and her aunt recently visited their family plot in Kern Cemetery and had to spend two hours weeding around the head stones.

Courtesy photo

Hollingsworth and her aunt marched into the main office to complain to Bernardo.

Hollingsworth said, “Clara was very receptive to our concerns and did her best to resolve them.”

A week after their meeting Holligworth’s aunt called her to say that the family’s graves, and all the graves in a particularly bad corner of the cemetery, “had been edged and cleaned  and it looked great.”

“While the grounds do look better, sometimes they drop the ball. But Clara listens to people’s complaints,” said Holingsworth.


Does double the pay translate into double the quality in maintenance?

According to a June 2017 district payroll document, two people worked in the district office and there were six grounds keepers.

The office manager in at that time, Marilyn Correia, made $21.60 an hour. Besides all the other duties of running a cemetery she and her assistant did payroll, got monthly financial statements ready for the board meetings, and did quarterly reports with sales tax returns.

Contrast that to January of this year, the trustees voted 4-1 to pay Bernardo $48.18 an hour with Aguilar voting no.

Currently, there are three office staff, including Benardo, and nine grounds keepers. Payroll is outsourced to an accounting firm and financial statements are routinely one to two months late. There is also the added expense of having one or two lawyers from County Counsel at every district board meeting.

In 2017, the district had a county lawyer on record but it was never necessary for them to attend the meetings.

For comparison, Hanford Public Cemetery, a city with a similar population and the same number of burials, pays their office manager $28.00 an hour. Porterville pays their office manager $30.00 an hour.

Former Trustee Vicki Gilson, who spoke during public comment, inquired as to what all the extra paid staff was doing.

She said the office staff has more people and makes more money but has fewer responsibilities.

She also thinks the grounds are as bad as they were in 2017, especially taking into consideration the pay raises and additional grounds keepers.

Bernardo has been at the helm for a year trying to right the ship but says she is going to need more time considering what she inherited.

Hope springs eternal though for Bernardo who wrote,

“But the heart and determination of the crew to make this the best cemetery it can be, and that the public can be proud of, is definitely there.”

28 thoughts on “Heartburn for Tulare Cemetery District constituents over pay raises, grounds upkeep

(Commenter ID is a unique per-article, per-person commenter identifier. If multiple names have the same Commenter ID, it is likely they are the same person. For more information, click here.)

  1. Clarification- There are 2 office staff plus myself who is the District Manager (not office manager) I oversee all aspects of the 2 cemeteries not just the office. The rates are different. There are currently only 8 groundsmen since April. The comparison in wages from 2017 to 2022? Really? That is just a ridiculous! The comparison in wages from 2021 to 2022 in every business has soared! How many times has minimum wage been up since 2017! Our numbers are at our highest of wages in the industry in kings county? I think that was a statement you posted on your Facebook page? Well first of all we are Tulare County and I would suggest whatever resources you received that information from they might want to update to at least 2021 numbers. Payroll outsourcing was done before I arrived but why is that such a big focus….there are so much more important things that need attention then whether payroll is done in house …. And if anyone knows a payroll service your hands are not completely free from doing payroll. You are still very much a huge part in the process of payroll. Why are so many things going back to many years ago the procedures of running a cemetery has changed, the importance of more required documentation has changed, the technology to keep up with the times has changed for anyone who wants to go back in time and think that it should all be ran the same…… well I didn’t see anyone content on how things were done then …..so, why does that seem to be the go to for how perfectly everything was done? As for the condition of grounds and compacting if anyone would like more information it is attached in my letter to the writer that was mentioned above.

    • I completely agree. This is just a opinion piece used to completely bash a board that Valley Voice is clearly biased against. They must not want employees to get paid. Are they attacking the employees or management? I can’t tell. There is no focus on this article. It’s just pure negativity and hate. Shows the true colors of Valley Voice employees.

    • To answer your question of why the comparison, the first and second paragraph at the start of the article explains the answer to your question. (see below) It’s a before and after piece. I do not think for one minute that this is a “hit-job” as a commenter not so subtlety opined in her posted comments. The timing of a before and after piece during times like these is rather debatable. But so are most things in life and news doesn’t conveniently wait until the time is right for everyone.
      Quote: [“In 2017, the Tulare Public Cemetery District (TPCD) grounds were in such bad shape it launched a grassroots movement that resulted in the office staff absconding into the night and the resignation of the entire board.] [Five years later, with a new board of trustees, more groundskeepers, and a new staff at more than double the pay, is the cemetery in better shape?”].
      I read your full response to this article. It was extremely detailed and excellently crafted in way that the reader could almost walk alongside the grounds men while they go about doing their duties. I liked that you stated facts not excuses for issues found at both cemeteries. Issues can’t be fixed if they aren’t acknowledged and I am confident that with your take charge no nonsense approach all issues that crop up along the way will be addressed as best and quickly as possible. I liked that Catherine’s article included Elaine’s praises of your quickness to address issues brought to you but also included her statement that the grounds for the most part have improved 100%. Anyone who follows the published obits in the VTD knows that there has been an abundance of deaths right here in Tulare alone. How the cemetery manages to keep up with all the burials is a testament of the many hours of labor that you and your workers put into your work, especially more so since the start of the pandemic. And we won’t even go into the emotional toil that goes with the job since some of these burials are for people personally known to you and/or your grounds men. I hope that in time that a gardener can be hired to tend to the smaller details, until then perhaps possibly a group of local volunteers can lend a hand where they see one is needed or perhaps concerned family can lend a loving hand if they are physically able to when they visit their loved one. Perpetual Care and Perpetual Love could and should go hand-in-hand. As for the pay being doubled from five years ago I am surprised that it hasn’t tripled considering the cost of living feels like it has tripled as well. Thank you and your entire crew for making a difference in this community.

    • Hanford District Manager receives $28.00 an hour and the Porterville District Manager receives $30.00 an hour. That information came from the District managers themselves. That makes Tulare Cemetery District manager the highest paid in Kings and Tulare County other than the Visalia District Manager who receives $48.00 an hour. Visalia Cemetery has more than double the burials and is double the size.

    • Hanford District Manager receives $28.00 an hour and the Porterville District Manager receives $30.00 an hour. That information came from the District managers themselves. That makes Tulare Cemetery District manager the highest paid in Kings and Tulare County other than the Visalia District Manager who receives $48.00 an hour. Visalia Cemetery has more than double the burials and is double the size and crew.

      • I think you need to check your resources more. Your hourly wages are completely off. To figure ones hourly based on a set salary you divide the number by 2080 hours which is 40 hour work week x 52 weeks in the year. ( which the 40 hour work week falls well below the hours put in for District Manager or almost any management) Now I can do the work for you and give everyone’s exact wages from here to LA and up North if you like but that’s more of your part if you actually want to states facts.

        • Shouldn’t you be working rather than reading and commenting on an article on Valley Voice

      • Hanford District Manager, Margaret Lohry did not give me her yearly salary. She told me her hourly rate which is $28.00 an hour. So what math is there to do? Same with Porterville.

  2. I see Catherine Doe doesn’t want valley citizens to be paid a fair wage. Written directly by Valley Voice owner Catherine Doe, how typical. How much does this make it? Over 6 articles about this board in one year, and all negative. Shows picture of Kern cemetery than puts a quote about sunken grass at north cemetery. So who are they mad at? The employees getting paid so much or the management who tells them how to do the job. Water infrastructure is tough especially when it was put in place years ago and wasn’t put in properly with graves all around. Maybe if Catherine Doe actually knew about construction or actually worked a physical job she would know this. It’s usually women who know very little about construction industry because they think it’s below them. I would be more concerned about the waste in water during a CA drought. The guarantee if anyone sees ant dead grass they would complain. It’s a no win situation especially with Catherine Doe and the her Valley HATE Voice. Tell them to cut the watering by half! California is in a huge drought. All of the Southwest US for that matter

  3. The ValleyVoice is one reason we are paying more to our manager. No one wants to work for the Tulare Cemetery and constantly have hit piece articles written about them . The candidates we interviewed last year for the manager’s position were asked at their interviews if they knew about all the negative articles written by the ValleyVoice. The only one that answered yes was Clara . I told every candidate to research the ValleyVoice articles. I told them it would not be fair for them to accept the job not knowing that they as the new manager could be subject to negative articles by Catherine Doe and it might . After that , half of the candidates changed their minds and told us they didn’t want the job . So here we are a year later and what do we have ? Why is Catherine so negative ? Notice her picture are close ups . I posted on my Facebook page a few weeks ago many pictures of the grounds that you can actually see beautiful green grass . Yes there is more work to do . Yes the board has given Clara a raise . How is that bad ? Talk about the wage gap . This board has 5 men who recognized the hard work and talent of a women and gave her a raise based of her performance. Now why isn’t that a good thing ? Does Catherine think women should be paid less ? Catherine didn’t go out and take pictures herself or monitor the looks of the cemetery for herself. Her information is all second hand . How can you report on something if you didn’t do your own research. Catherine has a weird obsession with the Tulare Cemetery . All Cemeteries have issues. I think if a news paper is going to be critical then they should be fair and treat all the cemeteries the same . They should cover other cemeteries as well . Why are 100 percent of the ValleyVoice articles on cemeteries about Tulare ?

    • Xavier – the current weather’s may or may not be fair. But let’s be honest – about two years you made an impassioned plea to raise the wages of the workers because of the risk of losing them or their replacements to places like Delano.

      The thing is, with higher wages comes higher expectations. Giving the same incumbent workers a huge raise and expecting better work than in the past might not work out. Maybe it hasn’t, given a fair chance. If so, new workers should be brought in and trained with new habits for the future instead of representing the past.

      • Paying Attention. You are not wrong ! But the thing is I believe the expectations are at a high level anyway. So it’s more about raising wages to match the expectations.

  4. I happen to agree with Catherine on this one. I took pictures of the Kern Cemetery few days ago. Bench in front is as is poor as other parts of Cemetery Yet you approve an $88k computer program !! And employees will get a trip to San Francisco to train ? The Board keeps trying to validate their HIGH SALERY to District Manager because of bad publicity ! And down groundsmen THEN HIRE MORE GROUNDSMEN !! There are no more plots to be sold at Kern . And as Elaine Hollingsworth pointed out at the Board meeting, the Financials COULD BE and as in the past be done by hand. THE POINT SHOULD BE: Get the grounds in acceptable condition, either hire more groundsmen or spend $88k on a a PROFESSIONAL service who can NOT a computer program That isn’t really mandatory !!

    • Mary you are quite misinformed…. There are over 200 plots to be sold at Kern which I had proposed to the board last year “Oleander Lane” which will generate over 1.5 million dollars over the years and it was approved. But there are also others throughout the grounds available. I have worked on utilizing the most land that we can at Kern Cemetery, there will be another area that I will propose when it is ready. But that’s what any good District Manager (not office manager …District) does. I just don’t do payroll or open mail or just pay bills I look at the cemetery as a whole and “how can we grow financially stronger so we can still be here for another 150 years” I don’t look at the numbers to pay the bills for tomorrow I look at being able to pay them long term. We can not grow or give the public more than what it is if all anyone wants to do is stay in the past…that might work for a park but not a cemetery or any other business. The software program you also need some education on, while everyone thinks that all it will do is make the office job easier ( which by the way why is that so wrong?) it is about having a resource for anyone anywhere to be able to find their loved one at our cemetery. THAT IS TECHNOLOGY THAT EVERY CEMETERY SHOULD HAVE. And sad part is most of them do but we have been stuck in old ways and the only time you can find anyone is if you call us Monday – Friday 8 to 4pm well what about weekends what about evenings? Really? The argument about a software program in the negative is so off….the argument should be why hasn’t this already been done. Now let’s talk about the fence…. Drive around Tulare really drive how many businesses have in the last few years put up 6 to 7ft iron fences? About 30 to 40% of them … why? Well really do I need to go there about our homeless issue and crime rates that have gone up. I don’t think so. So why would I not want to protect our most valued important treasures in our life… our loved ones. This cemetery is over 150 years old there is history there it is my job to make sure it remains safe for years to come well after I’m gone. Everything I have done since I have been there is not about dealing with just today but it’s about tomorrow and how can I do things today that will still be functional and helpful for the next 10 District Managers coming through there. So No…in no way should we revert back to the way things were not in this cemetery. Any one who thinks so will never give this cemetery a chance to be anything better than what it is. AND if for one minute anyone thinks that grounds and headstones are not at the top of my list everyday…..well completely mistaken! But getting it right is a process of Elimination sometimes and there are hundreds and hundreds of directions we can go finding what works for our grounds and our budget is the work …. It’s not just going to lowes to buy a sprinkler head and putting it on. I can go on and on but I invite you to do a ride along one day if you really would like to know more.

    • You cry about a bench lol. Maybe the system saves them money. Plus more accountability so someone doesn’t steal. Funny how you agreed with Catherine but everything she brings up is problems from years ago.

  5. Just an FYI, Joanna Garland is Chad Draxler. Also FYI my other job is property maintenance, clean up and gardening, that involves cleaning up after the homeless and all the presents they leave behind. Not much is below me .

    • FYI Catherine Doe is a communist who censors valley citizens. You have no evidence on your claim. Maybe you should have some accountability on your comment section to weed out bots. Add a login like every other legit comment section on a webpage has. You know it will reduce the comments and your trolls won’t be able to post. Oh you pick up trash on your own property, how righteous of you. You stated gardening like it has anything to do with construction. That’s not physical labor. That is moving surface dirt. You don’t know real construction work because you never worked it. What year were these caskets buried?

      • 1985 was the year… this specific situation had nothing to do with compacting the dirt. Gophers have been a huge problem for us and when they make their tunnels it creates a cavity. we’ll we have kicked up our watering to try to get the green grass, as you can see in the picture, but by doing that it also feels those cavities with water which then of course softens the dirt, which has been dry for long time, and weakens it then top surface which then collapses. And yes it happens in minutes we can’t see what’s happening under ground until it just happens. Now this isn’t the only reason …. Yes new burials will have settling time up to sometimes a year. Then there are issues with broken water lines. And also remember our grounds are constantly having heavy equipment run through them, unlike someone’s front yard, it’s tractors, backhoe, equipment carrying concrete vaults for burials, grounds are being disrupted by other burials next to or near them. There are many factors as to why ….we are not the only cemetery with that issue all cemeteries have the same problem. But we do our best to fix it as soon as we know it happened. Now let me acknowledge that this is definitely nothing I ever want any family to experience or anyone else for that matter to have to experience when visiting our cemetery , and my heart goes out to the family that did have to see their Mother’s grave in this condition…. Which I personally reached out to her at the time this happened. This is something we work really hard to avoid and try to fix before it happens but again if there is nothing above ground to identify a problem we sometimes find out when its already collapsed.

    • I thought at first to myself, Oh God, not a female Chad doppelgänger! lol Thanks for that info.

  6. If the district is having a hard time recruiting people to work there because of scrutiny by a newspaper, well, that’s too bad. The district is a governmental entity. Part of the its job is to answer to those pesky members of the public (taxpayers) or press.

    • Noah I agree with you but when a newspaper writes articles that are full of lies and misinformation then that’s not helping the public. The public deserves the truth not hit pieces. They need to be fair about what they write . While I accept and agree with your comment , I think the public should know the fact that we do have to pay more in order to retain a manager because of the ValleyVoice and yes that is too bad and we accept it but it is taxpayers money. The ValleyVoice has been doing this for 5 years now and it’s always the same result. Lots of goods things have happened but you will never read about it in the ValleyVoice, doesn’t the public have a right to hear the good things too ? . I think you would agree that Newspapers need to be held accountable as well . My question to you is why is the ValleyVoice only writing articles on the Tulare Cemetery ? I’m not going to mention any of the others by name but they all have issues too . So why is the ValleyVoice only writing about this one ? It’s ok if they don’t. I’m just making a point . The ValleyVoice wants to shed the Tulare Cemetery in a bad light .

      • Suggestion: If there are lots of good things happening at the cemetery then why not become a “Valley Voice Contributor” and write about them for publication in The Valley Voice. Many others in the valley do just that. It would be equally good for both the cemetery and the Valley Voice and appreciated by the readers.

      • That’s rich, you complaining about turning the truth.

        Why not turn 5 years of negatives into positives? For nearly 100k a year between the board and the manager, can’t you come up with some positive stories to pitch?

        Like how, based on the manager’s comments above, instead of complaining that gotta are causing collapses, describe the work that has been done in the last 5 years to turn that around and what’s planned for the next 5 years, and what the end game will be to eradicate the gophers ones and for all.

        Maybe solicit the numerous anti-goober vendors at the ag show to use your grounds as a demonstration year round, with the eyes of their ag customers right on the success! This could be a win-win for everyone at very low or no cost to the district. Especially with your ag connections!

  7. Before someone writes a comment that “I said financials could be done by hand” I would like to make a correction to that statement. At the recent Board meeting I stated the financials use to be done by hand when there were only two working in the office. I didn’t state the financials could now be done by hand now.

    One other minor correction is Caring Cause was formed in 2016.

  8. For crying out loud, can someone PLEASE fix that bench so Mary can finally be happy!

  9. The computer program to record grave information will help the office staff because people can find their loved ones graves on line. The Visalia Public Cemetery has a grave finder program and we have been inputting for years and have many years left. Whomever inputs the information has to be accurate or it is a waste. VPCD has a long time employee full time inputting our information who loves the cemetery and will enter accurately. These programs are the way of the future and takes pressure off the office and grounds staff when someone comes in and wants to know where their loved one is buried.

    • Sounds like a good tool that Clara could utilize for our cemeteries. It would be beneficial not just for office staff but for anyone looking online to locate a particular gravesite. The number of graves in cemeteries never goes down, they just keeping growing and growing. I would also imagine that it helps in identifying where future burial sites will be. These types of programs do require well-trained personnel to input information consistently and correctly. In the end you will get what you pay for. Well-trained personnel are worth their weight in gold and makes for a good investment.

  10. How about we talk about how my boyfriend was fired after being a victim of domestic violence. I ashamed of how I acted on July 28,2020. David Faria told my boyfriend Epifanio Hernandez to go to work at 5:30 am that morning upon arriving obviously nobody was even there. Long story short he and I go into an argument because i thought he lying to me. I showed up to his work around 6am and broke my boyfriend’s back window and left. David told my boyfriend to call cops and file a police reports which he did and pressed charges. They told him to go back to work he. Worked the entire day as he alway did doing most the mowing. At the end of his shift Leonor called him into the office and gave him his last check and let him go, Xavier was present as well David no where to be found. I understand my actions were wrong but to punish one of your most hard workers at that time and fire him without no warning at all or concern if he needed any support after the domestic situation he experienced they fired him. Make that make sense. How is this legal or even right. How was he making the job place unsafe it’s the employers job to keep their employees safe not fire them for something that was out of their control. I was charged with vandalism and did 10 days of jail time. Ever since my boyfriend has been fired he has struggled with depression and anxiety and has a hard time finding another job since.

Use your voice

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *