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Letter to the Editor: CEMETERY SCANDAL PARTICULARLY ODIOUS

June 10, 2016   ·   0 Comments

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By Warren LeFever:

The Marshall Cemetery, St Mary’s Cemetery, Marshall Township, and City of Marshall violations of state law is not a small tidbit scandal. It is an entangled mess that needs State investigation. I do not expect the Clark County States Attorney to do anything anyway. That’s out of character for that officeholder in Clark County. Because of this problem, the matter has been referred to State Cemetery Oversight and the legal process begins. The dollar numbers uncovered through FOIA are increasing. While I am not a lawyer, this explanation is for those without legal educations.
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There are two legal opinions on this matter that tried to justify illegal donations, one by the Marshall City Attorney and the other by the Marshall Township Attorney. Legal opinions do not replace the law and do not provide protection from prosecution – the most they can do is maybe let you show you did not “intentionally” or “knowingly” violate the law – and that is iffy. The City and the Township can be prosecuted, along with everyone who voted in favor of it (although unlikely to happen). There’s also the problem of having to give ALL the wrongly donated money back to the city and township (it is taxpayer money wrongly used and must be returned).
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The State’s Attorney can pursue legal action against both public bodies to keep them from illegally spending public money in this fashion. On his own, not likely.
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I have one personal opinion from my discussions with various officials about the cemetery matter that will be contested by those involved because of the way they have behaved. I believe the insiders to these illegal transactions knew from the start years ago that donating to a private cemetery by a township and non home rule cities is illegal. What they tried to do was pressure and bully it past those who questioned the legality and succeeded politically for years. Now those same people will cloud the issue as much as possible to avoid sanctions. There should be sanctions because it’s tax money illegally given away.
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From the beginning of the Sanders administration previous to October 2, 2015, Marshall City Council members (I cannot say if Marshall Township Board members were unaware) were unaware that the donating of labor and equipment for mowing, purchasing rock and oil for cemetery roads, and cash donation amounts were unlawful. In fact, I thought the donations were legal because the City Attorney had said nothing and his job is to keep city activity legal and inform Mayor and Council if legal problems exist. On October 2, 2015, I was contacted by the Edgar County Watchdogs about the matter. Someone else had contacted them. The Clark County Assessor and the Cemetery Board were also contacted and other County officials and a FOIA filed with City of Marshall a few days later. Word quickly gets around on a matter such as this and during public comment at the October 12, 2015 Marshall City Council meeting, (as reported in the Marshall Advocate) “Marshall Cemetery Board member Jim Knowles thanked the council for help with the mowing and other work. He said the roads look great. They could not have done all of this without the City’s help.”
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Following this admission, I thought the matter was basically over. I did not know about the entangling Township donations. I did do some research from time to time to see where the Marshall Cemetery was headed financially, but I had shelved the file because I had learned enough to know City involvement was not the solution. Also conversations with a cemetery official indicated the cemetery board was not interested in a solution. When cemetery mowing was placed in the City 2016/17 budget, I wrote in my planning letter that such donations were illegal and when the line item was retained, I had my lawyer write a legal opinion explaining why such action was illegal that I could give to the council members. The council voted 6-2 to adopt the appropriations with the line item in it. Then the Edgar County Watchdogs published their findings.
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Based on my understanding of the situation and available file information:
1. Mayor Camie Sanders was involved in receiving illegal Marshall Township donations as a Marshall Cemetery board member prior to being elected Mayor. He resigned from the board just before taking Mayor’s office. This action indicates that he was intentionally going to donate city funds to Marshall Cemetery (which had not been done before) and was aware there was a conflict of interest problem. His past actions show a deliberate intention to participate in wrongdoing and here we go again. He should have been removed from office as a result of his actions during the secret pay raise matter and stayed in because some honest council members didn’t know how at that time. Three Aldermen, specifically Tim Sanders, Mark Strait, and Vickie Wallace have supported legalizing wrongdoing and Alderman Michael Smitley has so far shown no tendencies to be different from his predecessor. Two other aldermen voted for the appropriations ordinance even though they seriously questioned the cemetery line item. Jim McKittrick and I voted against it and are off the hook. What went on at Marshall Township is not known to me at this time. I consider it a matter for State Authorities.
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2. Both City of Marshall and Marshall Township violated the law deliberately and intentionally for several years with no questions asked of their lawyers until the issue was raised in October 2015. Then, when the question of legality got raised, a legal opinion was written by the township lawyer to cover the wrongdoing. The exact amount of donated labor by the City of Marshall cannot be determined by documentation because no records are kept by City management (even the State of Illinois does that and has for at least 40+ years). It’s probably larger than what City records indicate but there’s no proof since there’s no record.
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3. Marshall Cemetery is not part of the City of Marshall nor has it ever been. The Marshall Cemetery Association board has over the years been a private insiders’ clique of people not all of whom were residents of Marshall nor even residents of Marshall Township and from time to time, board members from the City of Marshall were in the minority. In recent years, one of the board members has been from West Union. People who are buried in Marshall Cemetery come from all over and a considerable number from outside Illinois. I know of one person who never lived a day of his 78 years in Illinois and several people from places such as California and Colorado buried in Marshall Cemetery. The cemetery does not serve everyone in Marshall (nor has it ever) since it is a PRIVATE cemetery. Not everyone in Marshall can be buried there since it is a private entity and burial can be denied. At this time the only restriction as to who can be buried there is money. There are cemeteries with cheaper burial plots and I am aware that (one specific) burials have been elsewhere because of price.
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4. The concept that because the Marshall Cemetery Association board can no longer care for the Marshall Cemetery and therefore the City of Marshall should take over the cemetery instead of Marshall Township is bosh. While Marshall Township obviously needs to make changes to get back to being legal, the cost of having Marshall Township caring for Marshall Cemetery to the Marshall Township residents who will foot the bill will be much less. The pay scale of township employees compared to Marshall City employees is much lower. Marshall City employees are highly paid (for reference see City of Marshall web site and look at the large list of employees making over $75,000) and expensively insured and benefited. Since Marshall now extends into three townships, the question is why should, say, Wabash Township residents pay for a cemetery best taken care of by Marshall Township? City of Marshall is already financially stretched out to where another addition to the costs of operation will mean raising utility costs to consumers and they are getting a utility increase on all utilities but water bills this year (2016).
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5. One major question arose concerning the involvement of funeral home owner Ed Pearce at the Marshall City Council meeting. It seems quite unusual for a funeral home facility business owner who has many years’ experience in the funeral business to say he knows nothing about the cemetery laws at a council meeting when it’s his business to know correct legal procedures. To say he isn’t involved when he buries people year after year at Marshall Cemetery and makes a fine profit sounds fishy. Furthermore, he advocated and supported illegal donations to Marshall Cemetery and urged the council members to vote for an illegal action. He does have his legal right as a citizen to public comment. His actions have a suspicious appearance. The only time he has publicly commented at recent council meetings is to discredit me and I have the recordings. Apparently he and Mayor Sanders think that his standing in the community as the only funeral home owner in the city of Marshall is enough to intimidate, discredit, and pressure other council members into voting for something illegal. It won’t me and it has been widely known for years that I will never do business with Pearce Funeral Home (it’s very easy to arrange an out of town funeral home to do your services in a Marshall church), so it is no financial loss to him to run off at the mouth at me while his buddy Camie controls the meeting. By the way, Alderman Tim Sanders (Camie’s son) has done digital picture services for Pearce Funeral Home.
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6. It’s only been a short time that the Edgar County Watchdogs have been doing corruption stories about local government matters in Clark County. The corruption has been here for years and as one matter gets revealed after another, why are they doing the uncovering and no one else? Marshall lies in a media vacuum where local government wrongdoing (unless it’s police blotter stuff) isn’t considered negative by the media. This matter did not go into the local newspaper except as a council report. The reason Disclosure picks it up and spreads it all over the internet is that local media won’t bother. Stealing is considered positive and questioning wrongdoing is negative by local peer groups. It’s utterly amazing to hear supposedly respectable upstanding citizens demand that the laws be broken and nothing should be said to put us in a bad light. It’s even more amazing to have journalists (including TV) tell you they won’t cover it (freedom of the press also includes the right to protect those who steal and do other bad things by not reporting) because it’s “negative”. I know there are a few citizens who want to do something, but why do it and get punished for being honest? Now, however, things are beginning to change. Because of the advent of social media, watch dog activism of one name or another will continue to grow so more of the voting population will be informed of wrongdoing instead of letting it go on and be covered up and forgotten so more wrong can go on.
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7. Because of the lax enforcement of various laws in different departments in the State and County government, nothing may come of the discovery of the “donations” to private cemeteries and the annual actions may continue, legal or not. There’s no question Marshall Cemetery needs financial assistance; but to do it illegally? Is that being respectful to those who rest there?

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