Cov­ing­ton City Coun­cil ap­proves ceme­tery re­lo­ca­tion

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - JACKIE GUTKNECHT jgutknecht@cov­news.com

COV­ING­TON — In a split vote, the Cov­ing­ton City Coun­cil ap­proved the re­lo­ca­tion of an aban­doned ceme­tery at 5377 Ea­gle Drive after plans for a me­mo­rial gar­den and lim­i­ta­tions were added to the ap­pli­ca­tion.

Coun­cil­woman Hawnethia Williams, who pre­vi­ously voted against the ceme­tery’s re­lo­ca­tion, said she had a change of heart dur­ing the work ses­sion prior to the meet­ing.

“Had not they come be­fore us to let us know that there had been an un­earthing of this many per­sons or graves then we would not know about them,” she said. “Even if they were slaves or whomever, ei­ther way, they would have been out in a field somewhere. Some­times we need to think about how peo­ple need a de­cent burial, one of in­tegrity, so that’s what I be­gan to look at in terms of maybe chang­ing my mind in reference to that be­cause we would have not have known about these graves had they not come for­ward.”

Mayor Ron­nie Johnston said dur­ing the work ses­sion he viewed the graves as “lost souls” and is look­ing for­ward to putting them in a place where they can be memo­ri­al­ized prop­erly.

The ap­pli­cant, Guardian An­gel As­sisted Liv­ing and Mem­ory Care, LLC, is a seven-acre project with a to­tal cost of $15 mil­lion and 55 full-time job op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Ro­him Pa­tel, of Guardian An­gel, said dur­ing the meet­ing he is happy to have his busi­ness be a part of the Cov­ing­ton com­mu­nity.

For­rest Sawyer, a mem­ber of the African Amer­i­can His­tor­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion of New­ton County, spoke out against the re­lo­ca­tion of the ceme­tery dur­ing the meet­ing.

“We’re go­ing to be known as ‘Cov­ing­ton: a city that’s go­ing to dis­turb the dead,’” he said.

Sawyer said he has vis­ited the property and has con­cerns that there may be more than 14 graves at the lo­ca­tion.

“These peo­ple here have bought the wrong property, they’ve bought a ceme­tery,” he said.

Ge­orge Lanier, pas­tor of Grace United Methodist Church in Cov­ing­ton, said the graves are peo­ple

who are con­nected to Cov­ing­ton and they de­serve honor.

“Just as our na­tion takes the op­por­tu­nity when we honor our dead lost in bat­tle who de­fend our na­tion we have a sta­tion guarded 24/7 for the un­known sol­diers, there are many un­known graves all over this coun­try, all over the world,” he said. “I think how much bet­ter fit­ting it would be – I un­der­stand how emo­tions get into mov­ing our loved ones – but at this point, if I’m un­der­stand­ing cor­rectly, we don’t know who they are or who they’re con­nected to, but yes we do. They’re con­nected to Cov­ing­ton.”

Lanier said if there are more than 14 graves, he wants to find them and pay them the re­spect they de­serve.

“This is our op­por­tu­nity as a com­mu­nity to re­mind folks that from the cradle to the grave we take care of our own,” he said.

With Coun­cilmem­bers Chris Smith and Ken­neth Mor­gan vot­ing against the re­lo­ca­tion ap­pli­ca­tion a ma­jor­ity of the coun­cil car­ried the vote. Coun­cil­woman Ocie Franklin was ab­sent from Mon­day’s meet­ing and there­fore did not vote.

In re­cent his­tory

Ini­tially, the coun­cil de­nied the ap­pli­ca­tion at its April 3 meet­ing. With that de­nial, the city had 30 days to pro­vide the ap­pli­cant a writ­ten ex­pla­na­tion for the de­nial.

Just three days later, the ap­pli­ca­tion was with­drawn which meant the city no longer had to pro­vide the writ­ten ex­pla­na­tion. The ap­pli­ca­tion was then re­sub­mit­ted with changes that in­cluded plans for a me­mo­rial gar­den and a limit of 20 grave re­lo­ca­tions.

The city ap­proved its first ceme­tery re­lo­ca­tion in De­cem­ber of last year. That ap­proval was based on the in­for­ma­tion that about a dozen graves were in need of re­lo­ca­tion. Once the project was started, how­ever, a to­tal of 75 graves were found and re­lo­cated.

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