Washougal City Council eliminates cemetery board

President ‘shocked’ by decision, says city council gave no prior notice

The Washougal City Council’s recent decision to eliminate the city’s cemetery board came to a great shock to that board’s president, Micki Mulder.

“We had held a meeting not two weeks prior and staff made no mention of this,” Mulder said days after the council voted unanimously to eliminate the cemetery board and roll its duties under the umbrella of the city’s parks board, now known as the Board of Park and Cemetery Commissioners.

Washougal City Manager David Scott told Washougal city council members in May that cemetery boards are optional and pointed out that many Washington cities, including Camas, do not have a separate cemetery board of commissioners.

“… Cities don’t have to have one,” Scott told the councilors during their May 23 workshop. “In many communities, there is no advisory board around the cemetery — the staff takes care of the cemetery under the advice of the Council. When you look at what other communities are doing and think about our lead staff, streamlining the number of boards and commissions that we have would be a benefit in terms of those dynamics.”

Mulder disagrees that the city of Washougal will be better off streamlining its advisory commissions, especially when it comes to cemetery oversight.

“I think the manager is wrong, and that no one on the park board knows the first thing about cemetery operations,” Mulder said. “I asked Mr. Scott if the Public Works Committee had even spoken to Camas about how they transitioned and was told, ‘No.'”

The Washougal Cemetery Board was responsible for advising the city council on planning and development issues related to the Washougal Memorial Cemetery. The board also submitted annual budgetary requests to the Council for funds needed to administer cemetery programs.

At the time of its elimination, the board had four active members — Mulder, Janet Alder, Diane English and John Henriksen — and a vacant fifth position.

The city’s public works committee recommended that the cemetery board members form a new committee to assist Washougal City Engagement Manager Rose Jewell with the planning of the city’s annual Memorial Day event.

“We have wonderful people who have stepped up to volunteer for our community that applied to serve on our cemetery board. That has historically been a board that’s been difficult to recruit for, so we’re really appreciative and super grateful to the folks who have stepped up,” Scott said during the May city council workshop. “We want to continue their spirit of service. The idea from the public works committee is to invite them to continue to participate in something which is a good chunk of what they do currently.”

Mulder said she wasn’t fond of the proposal.

“I cannot speak for the other board members, (but I think) the advisory group/committee is a joke,” Mulder said. “And if this is truly a ‘streamlining’ effort, why keep the park board, either?”

Councilwoman Molly Coston, who served as a liaison to the cemetery board for several years when she first joined the Council in 2005, spoke in favor of the proposal to have cemetery board members shift focus to the Memorial Day event.

“For the number of years that I sat in on those meetings, the focus of the cemetery board was Memorial Day,” Coston said. “That was their thing in a whole number of different ways — helping people find locations for their loved ones, making sure all the flags are placed, making sure that they had fences painted and everything looked tidy. The board really gained energy in March and April (to prepare for) that Memorial Day celebration. There weren’t very many other responsibilities. I like this idea of having an advisory committee and just folding the cemetery board (into the park board) because in many ways, it has a park-like aspect to it.”

Councilwoman Michelle Wagner said she “didn’t think there was any reason why we shouldn’t make the change” when she first heard about the proposal.

“It seems like a really good fit moving the cemetery into parks,” Wagner said in May. “The public is still involved, and they’re going to have input on parks and cemeteries. We may even have some open park board positions, and if those ladies are really great volunteers, like it sounds like they are, maybe they can roll into those positions.”