Pauls Valley, OK, Pauls Valley Democrat

December 18, 2012

Cemetery fuels PV man’s passions

Ezra Mann
Pauls Valley Democrat — One man’s good intentions at a recent Pauls Valley City Council meeting ended with a compromise to bring light to an issue close to his heart, but came with the most heated discussion of the night.

Caught off guard by the approach of Pauls Valley resident and former council member Terry O. Johnson, tempers had to be cooled some when he stated how he believed boundaries of the city’s old cemetery may be violated by nearby farming operations.

What became the point of flared tempers between Vice Mayor Billy Riddle and Johnson was how he did not understand why a local officer could not prevent hay baling on what could be cemetery land and questioned why the city had not addressed it yet.

“This baling of hay just riled me whenever this policeman said he had no jurisdiction on it,” said Johnson, adding how he called police about a few months ago about the back end of the property that faces South Walnut Street and later resulted in him conducting research on the property.

“I’m here to ask the city council, not just the city council because y’all are trustees of the city of Pauls Valley… that all people buried in there are treated with respect, dignity and honor and not allowed to be grazed on by cattle, horses or baled hay on.”

Johnson’s request came down to asking the council to form a resolution to survey the land to determine where the appropriate boundaries are on the land owned for this purpose primarily to the west of the current boundaries by the city and fence it in as soon as possible.

Riddle sought calm by noting how it was unfair to target the city as negligent when they like many people have long been unaware that the former cemetery’s boundaries might be anything beyond what is closed off by the fence.

“This is new to every one of us up here,” said Riddle. “I understand where you are coming from, I understand what you have an issue with and I don’t have a problem with that. This is the first we’ve seen or heard of that.”

Riddle further explained that the officer who did not stop the baling on the disputed land also did not know if the land fell into possible cemetery land.

Police Chief Mitch McGill added that it was not so much a matter of whether the police department did or did not have jurisdiction, but that at the time it could not be determined that a crime was being committed and why the officer did not have authority.

Riddle further explained how until the lots on record are surveyed and a fence is put up, the area is not subject to restrictions. However, once a fence can be put in place to join with the rest of the property, it will be maintained much like the rest of the cemetery is already.

“There’s a disagreement on whether the whole cemetery’s getting mowed,” said Riddle. “That’s where a survey’s going to come in and get this taken care of… but until that point, we don’t know where that line is.”

Near the end of the discussion, Johnson even pointed out that the Chickasaw Nation might be able to assist in funding for a fence because of the real possibility of former tribe member burial sites within the boundary and could be determined with ground penetrating radar. The meeting ended without an official decision, but a promise to move toward a survey.

“That’s what I wanted to hear from y’all, what you were going to recommend and make a motion on,” said Johnson.

“I’m just asking for the council to recognize what the city’s purchased… It’s gone on too long and it needs to be fixed now.”