Cemetery task force recommends overhaul in light of Burr Oak

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New legislation and a complete overhaul of regulations are among the things the Cemetery Oversight Task Force recommended in an 82- page report it delivered to Gov. Pat Quinn Tuesday.

DEFENDER STAFF WRITER

New legislation and a complete overhaul of regulations are among the things the Cemetery Oversight Task Force recommended in an 82- page report it delivered to Gov. Pat Quinn Tuesday.

Quinn commissioned the task force in July after four former employees at Burr Oak Cemetery in south suburban Alsip were charged with dismembering human bodies in a plot- reselling scheme.

Three of the offenders have bonded out of Cook County Jail while one remains there in protective custody, according to the Cook County Sheriff’s office. Burr Oak has been closed since July with no date set when it will reopen.

Patricia Brown Holmes, a private attorney and chair of the task force, said the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation is a better fit to oversee cemeteries.

"The Department of Financial and Professional Regulation already oversees licenses for financial institutions and doctors so it would be a natural fit for them to also have oversight over cemeteries as well," Holmes told the Defender. Currently cemeteries are regulated by the Illinois comptroller’s office.

Dan Hynes, state comptroller, said his office has limited power when it comes to enforcement and that current legislation only gives him powers to audit cemetery trust funds.

The report also recommends consolidating current, outdated cemetery laws into one new law to further strengthen oversight and to weed out those who are not qualified to work at or own cemeteries.

Other recommendations included requiring all cemetery workers to be licensed by the state, quarterly inspections by the state and mandate cemeteries upkeep their grounds, which would include cutting the grass and making sure head stones are visible.

"New legislation is definitely needed so stiff sanctions can be put in place for those breaking the law," Holmes added.

At a Tuesday news conference Gov. Quinn thanked the nine-member task force for its work and said he plans to study their recommendations carefully to come up ways to prevent questionable acts from happening again.

"I look forward to evaluating their recommendations to protect bereaved Illinois families from corrupt cemeteries," he said.

State Rep. Monique Davis, D- 27th Dist., who worked with the task force, said she plans to make sure the recommendations are taken up by legislators when they return to Springfield next month.

For some, the recommendations come a little too late.

"If the workers at Burr Oak were licensed by the state and if regular inspections were conducted, that alone could have either prevented it from happening or discovered it sooner," said Sonja Blackwell, 78, whose mother, father, husband, grandmother, and oldest son is buried at Burr Oak.

And when it comes to suspicious acts occurring at cemeteries Burr Oak is not alone.

"Initially I thought this may be an isolated case but what we (task force) learned is that these acts allegedly committed by four individuals have occurred in places like Springfield," Holmes added.

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Copyright 2009 Chicago Defender. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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