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Did campaign politics kill Burr Oak bill?

Thursday, Jul 16, 2009 - Posted by Rich Miller

* After promising legislative action this week to deal with cemetery regulations, nothing happened, and it’s the usual Statehouse disaster…

State lawmakers left the State Capitol until the fall without addressing promised reforms of the cemetery industry spurred by the discoveries of disinterred remains at the Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip and political jockeying in the 2010 governor’s race may be a factor. […]

Sen. Emil Jones III, a Chicago Democrat whose district includes Burr Oak, said he agreed to delay potential legislation after a variety of interests raised issues about how to best deal with reforms in the cemetery industry. But Jones also said he felt slighted that he was not asked to help develop Hynes’ reform package.

Jones, however, was quoted in a Hynes’ news release touting the package and a Hynes’ aide said the lawmaker met with the comptroller about the legislation.

But Hynes said that after talks involving the Senate’s Black Caucus, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, state’s attorneys, county recorders and Rev. Jesse Jackson, “everything was lined up” until Quinn “decided to move an amendment that basically threw a wrench in everything and killed the bill.”

* Hynes is a likely Quinn opponent in the Democratic primary, so it’s no wonder that politics might be involved. But there were other reasons

Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago), who Tuesday offered up the possibility of a Senate vote this week on the cemetery legislation, backed away Wednesday. Without elaborating, he cited concerns toward the legislation from the cemetery industry and from the Archdiocese of Chicago.

“There are questions raised by the cemetery community, by the Catholic cemeteries who didn’t have a lobbyist here who called in. So, as a result, we’re going to take that up when we come back,” Cullerton said.

* Still, it’s hard to shake the cynical notion that Quinn is trying to milk this issue for all it’s worth. Remember this leak to Sneed yesterday?

Watch for Gov. Quinn to weigh in on the Burr Oak Cemetery nightmare by calling for public hearings similar to the ones he convened to deal with the University of Illinois admissions scandal.

From the governor’s Thursday public schedule…

Governor Pat Quinn will hold a press conference to announce the formation of the Cemetery Oversight Task Force

Rev. Jesse Jackson isn’t impressed

“We don’t need a committee. We need a regulation,” said Jackson, who called on Quinn to order lawmakers back to Springfield immediately to take up the cemetery legislation. “We don’t need to study this. It’s obvious what the deal is.

But the governor made it clear that he knows what’s best

“I know all about cemeteries. I go to a lot of funerals.”

* Hynes’ dead proposal included the following

- requiring all cemetery staff who sell plots to be licensed, just like doctors, barbers and cosmetologists.
- requiring cemeteries to provide “reasonable maintenance.”
- requiring cemeteries to keep detailed maps and records and to file them with the county recorder of deeds.
- creating a consumer bill of rights.

But the Daily Southtown, which has been all over this Burr Oak story, editorialized against the plan today

Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes calls for a plan to give the state new and needed oversight concerning cemeteries. Plenty of legislators are clamoring for the same.

Translation: “This is appalling. This is bad. The public is calling for heads on a pike. We should … DO SOMETHING!

Let’s create new offices! New officials! New documents and processing systems! Let’s pay for it all with new taxes and proudly proclaim we’re leading the charge against this moral assault on our dearly departed, dead citizenry.

Except of course, grave robbing is already illegal.

It’s time to step back here.

Such a stupid, likely isolated criminal scheme simply must not be allowed to create an entire squadron of cemetery functionaries - wandering with global positioning units to track the mostly peaceful, mostly quiet, grave sites of hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans.

Indeed, it’s this kind of misguided thinking that has led Illinois state government into the bloated, fetid bureaucracy it has become.


* Related…

* Catholic Cemeteries head to temporarily oversee Burr Oak operations: judge

* Chicago archdiocesan official to oversee Burr Oak

* Not over yet The Burr Oak nightmare . . .

* Former utility worker tried to blow whistle on Burr Oak scheme

* Burr Oak Cemetery cited several times for shoddy financial reporting

* County Compiles Photo Database in Cemetery Probe

* Mississippi museum wants Till casket


  1. - VanillaMan - Thursday, Jul 16, 09 @ 10:55 am:

    “There are questions raised by the cemetery community, by the Catholic cemeteries who didn’t have a lobbyist here who called in. So, as a result, we’re going to take that up when we come back,” Cullerton said.

    So, although the cemetary community provides the Democrats with the votes they need every other year to be re-elected, they are not quite certain where The Dead stand regarding the Burr Oak situation.

    Sounds like Cullerton needs to spend some time with his constituency. Money is to be discussed. Politics is to be done. No crisis is severe enough to legislate away if a buck can be made first.

  2. - Niles Township - Thursday, Jul 16, 09 @ 10:56 am:

    I’m with the Southtown on this one. Frankly, I’d be more interested in why the report to the local police made by the two ComEd subcontractors about bones all over the place went nowhere. That is far more interesting. Also, I do wonder about the hysterionics of some involved given that the they never seemed to visit the graves of their lost ones. If they had, they would have seen what the ComEd subs saw.

  3. - wordslinger - Thursday, Jul 16, 09 @ 10:58 am:

    I think the Daily Southtown editorial makes a lot of sense. This is an ugly, but isolated incident. What’s the rush? Let’s slow down and do what’s necessary, but do it right.

    Out of curiosity, where was the Archdiocese lobbyist? They didn’t see cemetery legislation coming? Wouldn’t they at least be interested in the social services budget?

  4. - wordslinger - Thursday, Jul 16, 09 @ 11:03 am:

    VMan, I’m all for Cook County cemetery voting jokes in the proper context. In relation to this criminal matter and public policy issue, it’s in very poor taste and quite disrespectful to the bereaved.

  5. - Shore - Thursday, Jul 16, 09 @ 11:18 am:

    I love the idea of cemetary functionaries wandering around with GPS systems. Is edna cohen died in 1993 in plot 64 or is that edna kohn died in 1994?

    sorry about putting the bond post in the earlier one, meant to put it in general clips.

  6. - South Side Mike - Thursday, Jul 16, 09 @ 11:20 am:

    Daily Southtown is right on the ball for this one. You really want another licensing committee and credential? Please. How would have a credential stop anyone who participated in this disgrace?

    As it is, I think cosmetologists and barber licensing requirements are ridiculous- if an unlicensed barber gave bad haircuts, they wouldn’t be in business too long, would they? Enough with the nanny state already!

  7. - Bill - Thursday, Jul 16, 09 @ 11:21 am:

    Quinn is just as political as anybody else. He’s just not very good at it.

  8. - Ghost - Thursday, Jul 16, 09 @ 11:23 am:

    Hynes proposals are all reasonable regualtions we should have regardless of the current scandal. having plots identifed with the recorder is one I think is a particuraly good idea. Regular maintenance etc. it is unfrotunate that no one had been pushing these sans the recentincident; but these are not just mere bearocratic creations, that are common sense. Maintenance and clear documentation should not be seen as anethma.

  9. - Greg B. - Thursday, Jul 16, 09 @ 11:25 am:

    Daily Southtown is correct. We don’t need cemetary cops.

  10. - 47th Ward - Thursday, Jul 16, 09 @ 11:29 am:

    So Hynes’ proposal is, um, dead and buried?

    The Southtown got it right on this. What happened is already illegal. Licensing, recording etc. isn’t going to change anything that happened. An audit of other cemetaries might make sense to check to see this isn’t a widespread problem, but I don’t think we need a Dept. of Cemetaries in Illinois just yet.

  11. - zatoichi - Thursday, Jul 16, 09 @ 11:35 am:

    How many events like this happen? I have been to a number of cemetaries around the state lately for family or friend funerals and they all seemed fairly well kept. Prosecute the people involved and follow up the ComEd bone report with the police. If this is an isolated matter there is no need for a new arm of legislation. This is a very serious PR issue for the industry far beyond late night parties and couples in cars.

  12. - Louis G. Atsaves - Thursday, Jul 16, 09 @ 11:41 am:

    Last time I posted something about the Burr Oak cemetery tragedy here, I got my head bit off.

    So to paraphrase our accidental Governor Quinn, the State of Illinois is doing just a fine job regulating cemeteries. Why change anything?

  13. - Amy - Thursday, Jul 16, 09 @ 12:11 pm:

    re the Tribune article on shoddy financial reporting, who cited the cemetery operations for incorrectly reporting the location of burials? in 2004? the article concerns things the Comptroller’s Office did, but this point is unclear. but the article does show that the Comptroller’s Office knew things were very messed up at Burr Oaks.

  14. - One of the 35 - Thursday, Jul 16, 09 @ 12:19 pm:

    The Daily Southtown makes sense. The stuff at Burr Oak is already illegal. Why pass some more laws that jerks like this can violate? How about we just prosecute them to the fullest extent for violating existing laws?

  15. - Baltimoron - Thursday, Jul 16, 09 @ 12:28 pm:

    This whole thing definitely reinforced my plan to be cremated.

  16. - not again? - Thursday, Jul 16, 09 @ 12:29 pm:

    Wait, Quinn wants to create another Commission? Jeez, just do some work. A commission for reform that did nothing but complain; a commission to examine admissions practices that is doing nothing but complaining; and now a commission to investigate something that might have been prevented with additional regulation, but let’s face it, the people who did this are just animals and nothing would have stopped them.

    Regardless of laws, Blago would have done what he did. Regardless of laws, people will make calls on behalf of their friends or to win favor with a constituent. Regardless of laws, people with no heart or soul will victimize others.

    Why does Quinn respond to every problem with a commission?

  17. - Amy - Thursday, Jul 16, 09 @ 12:36 pm:

    If the Cemetery Oversight Task Force is just that, a task force with a limited time to check out things, then it is a good idea.
    if not, then it is a bad idea, just creating long term confusion.
    there are regulations in place at the state and county level. local and state authorities apparently knew several things were going wrong at Burr Oaks. why was nothing done? a Task Force with a limited scope can find that out and see how things are coordinating between levels of government. It’s not a commission, it’s a Task Force. That means something different
    to me in public administration terminology.

  18. - Hank - Thursday, Jul 16, 09 @ 12:41 pm:

    I have in laws buried there (or at least supposed to be) and was able to keep relatives from running out there as it was nothing but a media/politicians circus before they closed it down. Anyone who thinks that the four mopes currently under arrest are the only ones involved are sadly mistaken. Problems have been going on for years. I’m not surprised at the lack of action by the GA as I believe Funeral Directors as well as some local authorities have had a hand in this. Some well known names/organizations may be made public. I would expect once the media gets tired of interviewing grieving relatives and the breathless reports about whether Michele Obama’s father is or isn’t there, things will quietly go away. Too bad about Michele Smith or Michele Jones whose relatives did wind up in the bone pile. Looks to be more Black on Black crime. Does anyome really care once the cameras are off?
    As others have said, enforce the current laws. New regs are just more grandstanding and will only hurt the many well run cemeteries

  19. - observation - Thursday, Jul 16, 09 @ 12:43 pm:

    It is sad that the dreadful actions of those associated with Burr Oak will have a dramatic financial impact on the thousands of small cemetaries throughout this state which operate on a shoestring budget to ensure that the grounds are well-kept and peaceful. It’s even more sad that elected officials immediately think that the best way to fix any problem is to legislate it. Just prosecute the people, put them in jail and move on. Adding a series of regulations will have too much of a negative effect on good people who wouldn’t even think of doing such a thing.

  20. - fed up - Thursday, Jul 16, 09 @ 12:44 pm:

    “I know all about cemeteries. I go to a lot of funerals.” Wow what a complete joke our govenor has become. Maybe his next big revelation will be “I know about doing nothing and getting paid a big salary I was Lt gov. for six years”

  21. - Plutocrat03 - Thursday, Jul 16, 09 @ 12:49 pm:

    This is how we get into trouble by layering costs and bureaucracy.

    Lawmakers have a single tool, legislation. In order for them to look like they are doing something they have to pass laws.

    Review the crime, incarcerate the wrong doers and at most, set up a cemetery problem hotline which will be investigated by local law enforcement.

    New departments and licenses will do nothing to stop this kind of barbarity.

  22. - Brennan - Thursday, Jul 16, 09 @ 12:57 pm:

    Mitchell’s column could use some highlight here.

    She writes that Matt Hamilton called the Cook County Sheriff’s Office. They sent two officers. They didn’t do very much. Now the Cook County Sheriff’s Office spokesman says they were not involved.

    Mr. “On Top of this Story” can’t even control his own house. Did the Cook County Sheriff’s Office dispatch officers or not? hamilton says they did. He talked to them. He says the officers could do nothing. Now Dart says they can.

  23. - Will County Woman - Thursday, Jul 16, 09 @ 1:47 pm:

    ” I’m all for Cook County cemetery voting jokes in the proper context. In relation to this criminal matter and public policy issue, it’s in very poor taste and quite disrespectful to the bereaved.” - wordslinger - Thursday, Jul 16, 09 @ 11:03 am:

    thank you.

  24. - Amy - Thursday, Jul 16, 09 @ 1:51 pm:

    what did they know and when did they know it. for everyone who played a part.

  25. - Will County Woman - Thursday, Jul 16, 09 @ 2:01 pm:

    another governor task force is not needed here. they’ll only tell us the obvious like all of his other task force/commissions have thus far on their respective issues. besides, his constant and incessant creation of these taskforce and commissions only suggests and underscores the fact that he has no real ideas himself.

    after the cemetery lobby successfully defeated hynes’ previous attempt to address the lack of regulation and oversight of the industry, do we really need to hear what they think at this point?

    as someone with deceased family mistreated in the burr oak situation, I was hoping that political posturing and foolishness could be avoided here. dart and hynes, both of whom are politicans, have not politically expoloited this issue. i am apprecative that both realize that such behavior is inappropriate and unnecessary. both dart and hynes have conducted themselves as sincere and matter of fact and unpolitican like regarding this issue.

    I am saddened and appalled that others would prefer to treat this issue like a political football, similarly to how they treated state fiscal issues (by playing games).

  26. - Will County Woman - Thursday, Jul 16, 09 @ 2:16 pm:

    interesting how the southtown suggests that the burr oak matter is an isolated incident.

    it’s likely not. just the other day the tribune reported a story about a woman who thought that her mother’s cremated remains were in an urn, who has now found out that the remains were acutally crushed sea shells. the woman’s deceased mother’s body was found decomposed in the funeral home.

    did the southtown forget about the big cemetery story very similiar to burr oak that made national headlines a few years ago?

    does the southtown honestly think that in an unregulated cemetery industry, as vast as it is, burr oak is really and isolated case?

    tom dart has suggested that burr oak is probably not unique. somehow i trust his judgement on this more than i do the southtown’s.

  27. - Brennan - Thursday, Jul 16, 09 @ 2:19 pm:

    ==tom dart has suggested that burr oak is probably not unique. somehow i trust his judgement on this more than i do the southtown’s.==

    If Mary Mitchell’s story checks out, Tom Dart probably knows more than he thinks he does.

  28. - In the Sticks - Thursday, Jul 16, 09 @ 6:57 pm:

    The two cemeteries in my small Illinois hometown each have a Cemetery Board, made of local members who know the relatives of all those buried in the cemetery. To require a license and continuing education for those small boards and those small cemeteries is not necessary, and really very foolish.
    DPR does not monitor architects, engineers and others who are actually involved in work that involved health and safety of the citizens of Illinois. Are they going to be any better with cemeteries? It will be a post to put some political person that only knows about cemeteries because they know someone who is buried in one.

  29. - Mark Allen - Friday, Jul 17, 09 @ 12:13 am:

    The Black Leadership Development Institute, BLDI
    (Obama Training Center)
    The New Black Independent Media Coalition
    Mark S. Allen, Founder/Director
    Associate Editor, The South Street Journal Newspaper
    449 East 35th Street, 1st Floor
    Chicago, Illinois 60616
    Office 312-624-8351 direct voice mail/cell 773-392-0165 or direct at

    THURSDAY, JULY 16, 2009


    The Governor and legislature failed to act on well researched and long time legislative reforms from State Comptroller, Human Dignity Coalition and others

    In our judgement, The Cemetery Lobby played their “hidden hand” at somehow getting Governor Quinn to create a “symbolic” Task Force to study state cemetery operations as opposed to voting on actual legislative reforms that State Comptroller Hynes and others have long studied and have had solid recommendations for new laws.

    This symbolic Task Force will spend months studying and coming up with recommendations are already in the reforms recommended by our coalition members and especially Comptroller Hynes who has studied this and has lobbied for reforms for a few years!

    This Task Force is not able to provide any solutions to the current crisis that this Burr Oak tragedy has uncovered and quite frankly gives other cemetery operators the ability to “clean up” their acts instead of facing new enforceable laws in the reform legislation.

    Citizens impacted by the Burr Oak tragedy and certainly others have gained nothing of substance from the creation of The Governor’s Task Force. The people of Illinois deserved to have the Governor and legislature act on the proposed legislative reforms, that were already researched by with solid recommendations from The Comptroller, Cook County Board President Stroger, Cook County Sheriff Dart, Senator James Meeks, Black & Minority Funeral Owners, members of our Human Dignity Coalition and others.

    It is somewhat of an insult to all the elected officials and other advocacy agencies and activists and ordinary citizens who has already done much of what this Task Force may come up with months from now as legal remedies. At no time during our discussions with the Governors staff did they indicate anything less that this legislation being acted upon, so it was a shock to hear instead that a symbolic task force was being developed instead.

    The Human Dignity Coalition will meet with State Comptroller Hynes, and those supportive legislators who supported the legislation and schedule a series of Town Hall Meetings and media outreach to clearly show the people of Illinois that the reforms in the proposed cemetery reform legislation are sound legal remedies of substance that should have been voted on by The Governor and Legislature. And recommendations that come from this Task Force could have been amended to possibly strengthen the laws that should have been voted on. The people of Illinois deserved some immediate legislative action of substance versus this symbolic Task Force.

    Mark S. Allen, Chair (Facebook) BLDI (Black Leadership Development Institute - Human Dignity Coalition)

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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