‘Can’t apologise enough’: Council to review cemetery policy
The Whitsunday Mayor has issued an apology and vowed to review the council’s Cemeteries Policy after it sparked a tidal wave of community criticism.
Mayor Andrew Willcox met with the other Whitsunday councillors as well as council’s CEO Rod Ferguson and senior management staff on Wednesday to discuss the community response to letters and a social media post sent out by the council about the management of the region’s cemeteries.
“The policy allows fresh flowers over the gravesite for the first month after interment and after that period a vase may be purchased from council for display of artificial flowers. Other items or structures are only allowed with the approval of council,” the post read.
It went on to say that residents needed to remove any excess items by Friday, March 19, or the council would step in to remove items that may pose a risk to visitors and staff.
The post attracted hundreds of comments, with some residents labelling the move “disgusting” and “heartless”.
After Wednesday’s senior management meeting, Cr Willcox apologised to residents who were distressed by the letters and social media post about the policy.
“My heart goes out to them and I feel really sorry and I cannot apologise enough,” Cr Willcox said.
“I lead this council and I am really sorry for their discomfort.
“Since it has come to my attention, I have dealt with the matter and got myself and the councillors together and the senior management team.”
Cr Willcox said in Wednesday’s discussion, it was acknowledged the current Cemeteries Policy did not meet community expectations.
“We have requested a report on the policy come before the next council meeting for consideration so we can formally consider the community’s concerns,” he said.
“I have directed the CEO to withdraw the letters sent to residents and to take no further action while that review of the policy is undertaken.
“I have also requested that the CEO take measures to give closer consideration to future issues that may be sensitive to residents in our region.”
Cr Willcox said the messaging was sent out by council officers and approved by the CEO, but the mayor had not been aware it was being distributed.
He said the policy was last revisited by the council in June 2019 and it was the first time letters about it had been mass distributed.
“We have had people contact the council who have gone to the cemetery to visit their loved ones and some other people have not tended to their sections as well as what their standard is,” Cr Willcox said.
“That is why we do have to have a policy.
“Clearly the current policy is not in line with community expectations.”
Cr Willcox said he could not pre-empt possible changes that could be made to the policy before the issue was tabled at the next council meeting.
Cr Willcox thanked community members for sharing their concerns.
“Having lost loved ones myself, who are buried in the local cemetery, I know how important it is to have a peaceful space in which to grieve and remember,” he said.
“I want to make sure this policy is appropriate and strikes the right balance between the needs of our community and the requirement to ensure our cemeteries are well maintained and safe for visitors and employees alike.”
The policy will be discussed at the upcoming council meeting on February 24 at the Bowen Council Chambers, which will also be livestreamed via the council website.