Who's buried where, West Tisbury wants to know
Cemetery chief Alley hasn't the answer
If you wanted to bury your cousin in the West Tisbury family plot, what would you have to do?
The first question is whether there are any spaces left for your cousin in that plot. How would you find out?
That's the question the West Tisbury selectmen posed to town cemetery superintendent John Alley at its meeting last week. In response, he said a person could look at the existing headstones in the plot or figure it out mathematically based on the size of the cement vaults that contain a coffin.
His answers did not satisfy the three selectmen who quizzed Mr. Alley in an hour-long public session about his record keeping for the town's three cemeteries. The selectmen have questioned Mr. Alley about his record keeping for the past three years.
"I haven't found a place that says who is buried where," selectman Glenn Hearn told Mr. Alley. "We have been trying to work with you to get this information on a professional computer database. We don't have the records. We need to improve the record keeping to get accurate information."
Despite their repeatedly expressed displeasure with Mr. Alley's performance in several areas of cemetery record keeping, the selectmen unanimously reappointed him to serve until the annual town meeting in April. But, they limited his duties and asked that he focus on updating the cemetery records, and Mr. Alley has said he will decide whether to accept reappointment after he gets a letter setting out the selectmen's demands for his future performance.
Mr. Alley had recently been suspended from the cemetery position after the selectmen tried repeatedly to meet with him earlier in the summer. Mr. Alley had not been reappointed this year to the part-time position he has held since July 1980, although appointments are usually made in April.
Twice, Mr. Alley had to leave early from meetings with the selectmen and did not appear for other meetings. Mr. Alley said he did meet with Mr. Hearn twice, but then Mr. Hearn moved to suspend him.
At last week's meeting, Mr. Alley said he wanted to keep the job and agreed to meet the selectmen's requests to work with them on their concerns. Later, by phone, Mr. Alley said he wanted to wait to decide whether to accept the reappointment based on the stipulations outlined in the official letter that he hasn't yet received.
"When I get the letter of appointment, I have to think it over," Mr. Alley said Friday. "I may say this isn't going to work. I want to make sure I'm comfortable with it."
The selectmen want the cemetery records to show where people are buried in the town's three cemeteries. But, Mr. Alley said Friday, "No one has ever recorded where people are buried." He said he doesn't know of a way to record the number of people in a cemetery plot. He also said it is difficult to go backward 30 years, although he said that burial information could be kept from now on.
Mr. Alley also explained the process for buying cemetery plots and the difference between a deed book and a ledger book, about which the selectmen had questioned him. He records the deeds to a two- or four-space plots, including the name of the person who buys it and collects the payment.
He then signs the deed and leaves it for the cemetery commissioners to sign. The three selectmen are also the cemetery commissioners. He then turns in the revenue to the town clerk, who enters the transaction in a ledger book, which is kept in the town hall.
Who's where is the question for West Tisbury cemetery superintendent John Alley. Photo by Susan Safford
Mr. Hearn said the ledger book and deed book do not correspond. Mr. Alley said he could not control discrepancies in the town clerk's ledger book. The town clerk also records deaths, he said. Mr. Hearn also said Mr. Alley should have made copies of the cemetery plot maps in town hall.
Despite Mr. Alley's claims that the selectmen were "mixing apples and oranges" regarding the record keeping, selectman Skipper Manter said, "We should be able to find a record of the graves. I believe the board would like to see a record of who's buried."
Selectman John Early told Mr. Alley, "The board wants a record, not in your head, but on record so as to minimize the possibility of error."
Mr. Hearn said he had looked at computer software used by many towns that could be used to update the cemetery records. "We have to move into the 21st century. We're now in the 19th century," he said.
After the meeting, Mr. Early said Mr. Alley's reappointment is a good place to start. "We have to keep talking to each other," he said.
In other business last week, the selectmen approved a $4,000 allotment to be taken from the Conservation Commission's wetlands protection filing fee to address the overgrown, deteriorating condition of Mill Pond next to the West Tisbury police station. Aquatic Control Tech Inc. will be hired to do a sediment inventory and provide critical wildlife information, then make a recommendation for fixing the problems at the pond
Tony McClellan, a pond abutter, spoke on behalf of several abutters at the meeting, saying they were pleased to see the project move ahead and asked to be apprised of the progress.
Kent Healey, an engineer and resident of West Tisbury, offered to develop an emergency action and maintenance plan for the Mill Pond Dam for a cost of $1. The board accepted the offer with appreciation.
West Tisbury planning board chairman Murray Frank reported on the proposed development of a 15,575-square-foot house on the 30-acre Rattner north shore property. He said the planning board was most upset about the amount of earth that would have to be removed to build the house so that it would comply with the 24-foot height regulation.
"We decided it would require more than 400-plus trucks on a narrow, curving, sandy road," Mr. Frank said. "I don't care if someone needs a 6,000- or a 15,000-square-foot home, but I do care about the amount of earth being moved." He said the project would have a major impact on the neighborhood. Mr. Early estimated it would take 58 "truck days" to move the earth from the site.
The planning board referred the issue to the Martha's Vineyard Commission for a vote Sept. 14 on whether the regional agency will review the Rattner house as a development of regional impact. No action was required by the selectmen on the matter.