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Langley Cemetery Board vacancies vex officials

The Langley Cemetery Board is struggling for members. - Ben Watanabe / The Record
The Langley Cemetery Board is struggling for members.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

Langley’s search to fill a vacant seat on the cemetery board seems to have lost all its life.

For the past two years, one seat on the seven-member Langley Cemetery Board has gone unfilled. In past city council meetings, City Councilwoman Rene Neff a cemetery board member for the past eight years has pleaded unsuccessfully for someone to step up and join the board.

But there are other, more pressing vacancies to address on the board that oversees Langley-Woodmen Cemetery. A top priority is finding a new board chairperson after Marilyn Strong resigned. She served the city’s all-volunteer cemetery board for the past seven years.

“There just hasn’t been much interest,” Neff said. “But we really do need to have some new blood.”

Of the seven positions on the mayor-appointed, council-confirmed board, only four are occupied. Langley has four volunteer citizen boards and three volunteer commissions. The Langley Library Board, Historic Preservation Commission and the Langley Cemetery Board have seven members; the rest have five, except the Civil Service Commission, which has three (two are listed as vacant on the city’s website).

Finding new citizen cemetery directors has been an issue for Langley for the past few years. Up north in Coupeville’s Cemetery District 2 that oversees the Sunnyside Cemetery, the three-member board has usually been filled during Commissioner Roger Sherman’s 18 years.

“We’ve been quite fortunate,” he said.

“There’s only one case in 18 years of a person coming forward and wanting to serve the board here, and that person was born here and lived here all her life,” he later added.

Sherman acknowledged that the Central Whidbey cemetery district has avoided board vacancies, in part, because it is a Sherman family tradition. Since the 1920s, his family has had strong ties to the Sunnyside Cemetery, starting with a forebear being the property’s groundskeeper.

“We’re carrying on a tradition, and obviously you don’t have that in Langley,” he said.

One of the problems for Langley, Sherman surmised [though he acknowledged he did not know the specifics of the Langley-Woodmen Cemetery], was that its board did not have broad control over its finances because it was not a taxing agency.

“We control all of the finances,” Sherman said, adding that the county pays for its utilities bills.

The Langley-Woodmen Cemetery is set up as a separate fund for the city with a 2014 budget of $16,532 to pay for some upkeep of the grounds. The budget does not pay for a full-time groundskeeper, and the city often relies on volunteer help to spiff up the property.

“We have to pay for all of the maintenance and all of the upkeep of the cemetery … and any improvements that aren’t big, capital improvements,” Neff said.

“Otherwise everything done there is all volunteer,” she added.

Sherman and Neff each said that cemetery board members usually have an affinity and interest for history. Neff said the city council could move to reduce the size of the cemetery board, thus making it easier to fill the positions. But she defended its seven-member ranks as a benefit in helping to cover any absences and still have a quorum.

Serving on the Langley Cemetery Board requires a monthly meeting, though it usually recesses during summer. Neff said the board had some “big decisions” ahead of it, especially regarding the implementation of a green burial section.

“It’s a group of people who have been extremely active and really love the cemetery and want to preserve its uniqueness,” Neff said of the cemetery board.

“Anyone who is interested in keeping the character of our cemetery alive and well is a great candidate,” she added.

 

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