Tension among the tombstones

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By Juanice Gray, jgray@natchitochestimes.com

A cemetery meeting notice in Marthaville correspondent Donna Horn’s Oct. 11 article  sparked backlash from Marthaville cemetery president Rocky Gandy who contacted the Times to issue a cancellation notice for the Oct. 20 meeting. The cancellation notice was posted to the Natchitoches Times website. Gandy later called the Times office to demand a retraction of the meeting announcement in the print edition. “It has been cancelled. Horn is a member only. She is one out of 200 and has no authority. I am the president. She is trying to engineer a coup,” he stated in an email.

Members of the Marthaville Cemetery Association and their president have been at odds for quite a while. “We have differences in procedures and accountability,” said member Fuzzy Hennigan. The Times obtained documents from both sides. Marthaville Cemetery Inc. (MCI) was incorporated in 1999.

In 2016, Gandy became president by committee appointment, not election, according to a statement he made in a letter dated Aug. 4, 2018. The letter further states Wendy Allen and Charles Davis were “brought on” as directors. Conversely, current officers, according to Marthaville Cemetery letterhead are, Rocky Gandy, president; Charles Davis, no title; Wendy Allen, Secretary; Glyndal Gandy, Treasurer; and David Barnhill, no title.

Once Gandy took office, he found that the cemetery was not in compliance with the Louisiana Cemetery Board (LCB), a state agency that, among other things, monitors and audits Perpetual Care Trust Funds, licenses Cemetery Authorities and regulates cemetery care funds. According to Gandy’s letter, he “engaged with the LCB and entered what I will reference as a ‘voluntary compliance’ program.” The Natchitoches Times contacted the LCB. A spokesperson confirmed MCI is not a member. Furthermore, there is no record of the cemetery or a representative entering into any form of agreement.

Gandy states in his letter that “Immediately after meeting with the LCB, I opened the N/NW corner about 30 feet wide, I also removed about 50 feet or so of cyclone fence on west side.” That fence separated the Marthaville Cemetery and the Marthaville African-American Cemetery. At the June meeting this year, election of officers was discussed. In his letter, Gandy states “David Barnhill and Glyndal Gandy (treasurer) have been on this board since 1999 and desire an election or appointment for their replacements.” The letter further states “we do not need an election as terms expire” and “Wendy Allen, Charles Davis and I still have time remaining to serve and we will be eligible to step down in 2020 or stand for re-election if desired.”

By-laws state officers are elected annually at the June meeting, with the exception of the directors, who serve one, two or three-year terms. In June, attending members voted to have a special election this Saturday, Oct. 20.

Gandy set an Aug. 31 deadline for nominations and instituted a list of criteria, including a questionnaire, bio and explanation of the applicant’s desire to serve. The by-laws state elected officers shall consist of a president, secretary/treasurer (not separate offices) and three directors chosen by a majority vote of the members attending. No criteria other than being a member of the association are listed as well as no stipulation providing for an appointed officer.

Some members of the Cemetery Association met this week and unanimously voted to proceed with the Oct. 20 meeting and election of officers. Henningan said an agenda was made including a “…prayer, pledge and nominations then a vote, which can be open by a show of hands or closed by paper ballot.” He said the style of voting will be determined before nominations. Directors will be chosen for one-year (expiring June 2019), two-year (expiring June 2020) and three-year (expiring June 2021) terms. A moderator will preside over the elections. “Officers will be elected based on majority vote of those in attendance,” Hennigan said. “And yes, I invited him (Gandy) to come.”

“In June we told him that we had to have an election, it is the by-laws. He is the one that set this meeting up and now at the last minute he is calling it off,” Horn said.

As far as finances, a Perpetual Care Fund was established as far back as the 1950s. “It is a long term care plan and prior to 2009 it had not been touched,” he said. In addition to those funds, they have a road fund and general operating fund. Our donations are less than half of our operating budget,” Hennigan said. “Our reasons for having the special meeting are because nowhere in the bylaws does it say an officer can be appointed, we want to start with a new, clean slate.”

Gandy stated in an Oct. 16 email, “We should also add to the paper the comments ‘any unauthorized meetings will not be recognized by the MCI board.’

There is obvious tension among the tombstones in Marthaville.