solar lights

Editorial Opinion. Draft Cemetery Policy

Editorial Melissa Blewitt.

This is very hard for me to say. It was a sad day for democracy in the Lachlan Shire last Wednesday. Councillors who have been elected to “represent” me, don’t seem to “represent” me at all.  Solar lights are now no longer allowed in the lawn section of the Condobolin Cemetery despite the Cemetery Committee and staff recommending they be allowed.  I feel so deflated that those that were elected to represent me, failed in their duty to give me a voice on such an important and emotional issue.

For 28 days the Draft Condobolin Cemetery Policy was on display. By the end of the display period there were four submissions received, two of which verbalised a strong dislike for solar lights. As a consequence of these two submissions and the support of Lachlan Shire Councillors, solar lights will no longer be permitted in the lawn section of the Condobolin Cemetery.

The Condobolin Cemetery Advisory Committee recommended two solar lights measuring 30 centimetres or less be allowed, but that was rejected in favour of no solar lights at all.

Lachlan Shire Councillors decided to go against the Condobolin Cemetery Advisory Committee, even though they voted for the Draft Policy as it was exhibited. To me, this doesn’t make any sense.

Two members of the community in their submissions described solar lights as “absolutely terrible” and “disgusting”. I don’t understand, what could be described as, the irrational hatred of solar lights. Grief is grief. When a loved one passes away, it changes people inside. Everyone should be able to express it in a way that helps them. Even those who disagree with the way I choose to honour my loved ones. I do not go to the cemetery to judge how others honour their loved ones. No one else should either.

To some residents solar lights may be “disgusting” to others they brighten up the night for their loved one. Some parents may want to put up solar lights so their child is not alone in the dark. I, for one, don’t think I have the right to say they can’t. I’ll leave that up to those that think they know better than the wider community to tell grieving parents that.

For the record I am on the Condobolin Cemetery Committee. For months some members argued for a little less restriction. Then after a marathon meeting in June, supported by over 15 community members,  a consensus was reached where mementos and trinkets were permitted as long as they were confined to the plinth area and were under 30 centimetres high. Two solar lights, yes two, not four or 10, would be allowed as long as they measured up to 30 centimetres.

It was a hard fight. At the May meeting a motion was rushed through with no serious debate, where the Policy would have had allowed only two trinkets under 10cm high,  no solar lights and a significant increase in fees associated with burial costs. Three members of the committee (one of them was me) wrote to Council asking that it be deferred back to the Committee for review. Councillors agreed to do that, and so the Draft Policy was reached.

When community sentiment is overridden by the actions of a few, then I think we have a problem.

Councillors are elected to represent the entire community not just a small section. There was no cemetery policy until December 2014. Then an Advisory Committee was formed early this year to debate and form policy. This was in response to a community backlash against the original policy.

At last week’s meeting a councillor declared “They [the cemetery committee] are just an advisory committee. They don’t make the important decisions.” So my question is. If Councillors know better than the community, why is there a need to have a committee at all? Perhaps if you belittle the community’s role in decision making, that is why the Shire is struggling to find people who want to make a valuable contribution. Just a thought.

Before the vote the question “So you all know what you are voting on?” was asked. All other councillors indicated they did. So there you have it. Councillors Scott, Brady, Saunders, Hall, Phillips, Frankel and Ridley have made a decision and now they have to defend it. As ratepayers you have the right to ask why they made the decision. I hope you do.

This debate is not about solar lights. It is about the principle of letting the community have their say and feel like they are being heard. Why does Condobolin Cemetery have to conform to other town’s ideas of what a lawn cemetery should look like? I think we have lost our way, when policy becomes about prettiness and not about the people in the community.

I believe when a councillor is elected, they represent the entire Lachlan Shire. Not just the town/area they live in. I believe it is time for change. If you want to see change or send a strong message, then you can stand or vote at the September Council elections. I want to be proud to say I am from the Lachlan Shire. I want the councillors elected to represent me to stand up for what is in the best interest of the Shire.  I want integrity, honesty and compassion. I don’t think Lachlan Shire residents should have to settle for less.

Note. The opinions expressed in this editorial are mine alone and do not represent the views of The Condobolin Argus newspaper.

Let there be no light

• Solar lights such as these will no longer be allowed in the Condobolin Lawn Cemetery. During last week’s council meeting Lachlan Shire Councillors voted unanimously in favour of not allowing these devices.

By Melissa Blewitt

Solar lights are no longer allowed in the Condobolin Lawn Cemetery.

Residents will have two months to remove solar lights before Lachlan Shire Council staff enforce the new Policy.

Lachlan Shire Council voted unanimously to support a motion put forward by Councillor Graham Scott at last Wednesday’s monthly meeting.

The resolution states “That Council adopt the draft cemetery policy for Condobolin cemetery as presented to the last meeting of the Condobolin Cemetery Advisory Committee with the following amendments: a) Burials can only be undertaken at the Condobolin Cemetery under the control of a registered Funeral Director and; b) The clause in relation to allowing the solar lights in the lawn cemetery be deleted and replaced with “no solar lights or any other forms of lighting be permitted in the lawn section of the Condobolin Cemetery.” This motion was moved by Councillor Graham Scott and seconded by Councillor Les Saunders.

Councillors Scott, Dennis Brady, Les Saunders, Mark Hall, Paul Phillips, Max Frankel and John Ridley all voted in favour of the motion. Councillors Des Manwaring and Brian Nelson did not attend the meeting. Mayor John Medcalf did not vote.

Three of the four councillors (Graham Scott, Dennis Brady and Les Sanders) are on the Cemetery Advisory Committee, and had previously agreed to allow two solar lights up to 30 centimetres in height to be permitted. But at last week’s meeting back-flipped on their decision and went essentially against themselves, to vote in favour of the new motion.

The Condobolin Cemetery Advisory Committee recommended two solar lights measuring 30 centimetres or less be allowed, but that was rejected in favour of no solar lights at all.

In the Environmental Services and Development Officer’s report to Council it stated “Council staff believe a compromise has already been reached with the use of solar lights by limiting their height to 300mm. It was noted that some people have children buried there and their children were scared of the dark, so they want to keep a light on for them at all times in order for them to rest in peace. It is considered, therefore, that the use of solar lighting (as outlined within the draft Policy) should remain.”

Councillors chose to ignore the recommendation from Council staff and proceeded with the motion provided at the meeting.

The Condobolin Cemetery Draft Policy was placed on exhibition for a period of 28 days and four submissions were received. Two submissions were totally against solar lights in the Lawn Cemetery, with the authors describing solar lights as “absolutely terrible” and “disgusting”.

In the report it said “The third submission congratulates the Shire for putting effort into trying to clean up the Condobolin Cemetery, especially in the lawn cemetery section; however, they object to the use of solar lights in the lawn portion saying they look “absolutely terrible”.

In relation to the fourth submission, the report said “The fourth and last submission states: “It is disgusting that the shire intends to allow solar lights in the lawn portion of our cemetery…..”

Of the two other submissions received, one was in relation to headstones in the Lawn Cemetery and the other called into question the legality of some of the wording in the Policy.

One of the submissions took the issue of plaques one step further, asking why reasonably sized headstones could not be used.

The report said “The submission listed six reasons why headstones should be permissible: (1) it is hard to read the plaques when they are flat; (2) after a while the letters get difficult to read; (3) a headstone is easier to read; (4) a headstone is a lot more personal to the family; (5) over a period of time it is a lot easier to find a relative when someone visits the town; and, (6) there is a lot of people who would like a headstone that matches the headstone of a family member who is buried in another town.” The author of the submission also provided a photograph of the new Dubbo Cemetery, where headstones have been allowed.

Councillors rejected this submission.

Another submission called into question the legality of some wording of the Policy, saying funeral directors in NSW are not licensed and may set up business without any specific training or qualifications.

“This draft policy item is certainly a denial of natural family rights to conduct appropriate, lawful funerals of our loved ones”, says the submission maker in reference to the Policy stating: “Burials can only be undertaken at the Condobolin cemetery under the control of a licenced funeral director.” The submission maker would much prefer it to be worded: “In NSW, executors of deceased persons will have the legal authority to organise their funeral, burial or cremation as long as they comply with government and health regulations,” the report to Council said.

“Extensive researching of legislation and searching on the internet cannot find anything to refute what is stated by the second submission maker.”

The report recommended changing the wording in the Policy to “Any person, with the legal authority to organise a deceased person’s funeral, burial or cremation is to do so in compliance with the Local Government Act 1993, the Cemeteries and Crematoria Act 2013 and the Public Health Regulation 2012. To ensure this is done, Council must be consulted prior to making funeral arrangements.” This was rejected.

A total of 14 recommendations were made to Councillors in the report, one of which was to put the Draft Condobolin Cemetery Policy back to the Cemetery Committee with the recommended changes for reconsideration. Councillors chose not to implement any of them, instead voting in favour of Cr Scott’s motion.

 

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