Preservationists upset over move to disband cemetery board

County says inactive board hasn't met in years

October 06, 2011|By Luke Broadwater, The Baltimore Sun

Howard County Executive Ken Ulman has asked the County Council to do away with a dormant volunteer board that helps protect historic cemeteries, a move that has drawn opposition from preservationists who say their work isn't finished.

County government spokesman Kevin Enright said the push to eliminate the Cemetery Preservation Advisory Board is part of an effort to simplify county law and get rid of entities that are dormant or no longer needed. The cemetery board hasn't met in at least six years, he said.

But Fred Dorsey, president of Preservation Howard County, said he hopes the council shoots down the bill. Dorsey acknowledges the board hasn't met since at least 2003, but he thinks its duties should be increased, not eliminated.

"Is there a need for the Cemetery Preservation Board? Most definitely," Dorsey said. "The board was never called to meet even though there is a need for it to meet annually. I've raised the question many times why there were not meetings."

Some on the County Council also expressed reservations about the bill.

"I have not received an explanation from the administration about why they are doing this," said Courtney Watson, who represents Ellicott City and Elkridge on the council and called the goals of the board important.

"There are unmarked and unknown cemeteries in Howard County," she said. "When one is found, they need to have an advocate. We have to have respect for the people who came before us. I clearly have some reservations about disbanding a board in our code. This came out of the blue."

Enright said the board's initial purpose was to compile a list of historic burial sites in the county, a task it completed in 1994. Since that time, its usefulness has waned, he said, noting that only a few cemeteries have been found since that time.

Dorsey said the board can be a resource for the county and members should be finding small historic cemeteries, cataloging them and assisting with the restoration of known historic cemeteries. He said he and Howard County historian Joetta Cramm recently discovered a small Civil War-era cemetery in the Anderson area of Howard County and that site is not included on the inventory.

"We need to show the appropriate respect for that era," he said. "These were the people who are made Howard County what is today."

Dorsey said he plans to testify against the bill on Oct. 17 when the council takes up the matter.

Council Chairman Calvin Ball, who represents East Columbia, submitted the bill on behalf of Ulman. He said it's worth reviewing the usefulness of all volunteer boards.

"All of our boards and commissions should meet the needs of our community," he said. "It's a worthwhile conversation to discuss each of them and whether they're serving their purpose."

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