The subject of Unity Cemetery had recently returned to city council’s agenda for discussion and council, City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney and a consultant spent nearly half an hour on the topic.
Councilor Andre Knight has made it clear that he believes the Municipality, having budgeted a substantial amount to modernize the cemetery, should be given priority over consultant and former Councilor Lois Watkins with a preservation committee in place to help provide advices.
During the council’s business meeting on Oct. 11, Knight said of the historically African-American cemetery off East Grand Avenue: âMy blood is boiling, boiling because I’m so passionate about Unity.
âThe money is there,â Knight said. âWe have to take care of doing what we say we’re going to do. I understand you want to create a committee, but we want it cleaned up. Clean up the cemetery.
âWhile you are working on the organization of the record and oral history, this should not preclude the cleanup of Unity Cemetery,â Knight said. âThe money is in the budget.
Assistant City Manager for Budget and Assessment Kenneth Hunter told council on May 26 that at least $ 700,000 would be tied to a start-up phase of the restoration of Unity Cemetery for the city’s municipal budget. 2021-2022 fiscal year.
Small-Toney told council on March 8 that she and her team estimated that a cemetery restoration project would cost at least $ 1.46 million over the next five years.
During the council’s working session on Oct. 11, Small-Toney said Watkins and city staff created a Unity Cemetery workroom at the Imperial Arts and Science Center.
Small-Toney said much of the information about the burial – some 16 to 17 filing cabinets, as well as many boxes – was transferred from a warehouse that belonged to the old Stokes mortuary.
Small-Toney also said two consultants were working with the municipality: one with experience in North Carolina and Virginia in preserving records and the other who is local and familiar with the Unity Cemetery burial sites.
Small-Toney said city staff are looking for computer software to capture information about the burial.
Small-Toney asked city council for direction on establishing the committee and said there were three options.
The first option would be to accept a recommended list provided to the board on August 9, while the second option would be to accept a recommended amended list provided to the board.
The third option would instead be asking Mayor Sandy Roberson and each of the seven council members to make two or three appointments each.
Option two, the amended list, came after Councilman Lige Daughtridge pointed out on August 9 that the first list did not include people who helped with a voluntary clean-up effort of large parts of the cemetery on February 6. , as well as the following days. .
During the October 11 working session, Councilor Chris Miller asked if there was a deadline for expiring the terms of committee members provided to Council for appointments.
Watkins said the process went up to a proposed roster of committee members and did not include term lengths.
Watkins said of tenure: âThis would all start once you decide who you want. “
When Miller asked if the terms had not yet been determined at this point, Watkins said the only thing that had been done was to make recommendations for people to lead the committee.
âBut at this point, we didn’t go any further until we heard from you for full approval to go ahead,â Watkins said.
Knight recommended option three to have appointments made by Roberson and the board members.
Knight also said that this fall there are many trees that can be cut and removed.
Knight also expressed concern that the city could get bogged down in bureaucracy over who will sit on the committee and for how long and who will chair what, when the goal is to allocate money for a cleanup.
Watkins replied that the committee would be a working group, that there is already a lot of work to be done and that the committee structure can help.
Watkins also said Robert’s rules of procedure will be followed at committee meetings, which will be held every two months.
“But there is nothing we can do to start the work until you have approved a committee,” she said.
Watkins said an office is almost ready, city staff have done their part, and except for three bags of information, everything else is organized.
Knight wanted to know if Watkins was saying that the municipality cannot do any work at the cemetery until a committee is formed.
Small-Toney said, âI don’t think that’s what we’re saying. I think with efforts like this and since there has been such a wave of interest and support from the community, we want to make sure we capture that. “
On the contrary, Small-Toney said now is the time to put in place a governance structure and that there will be a set of more specialized panels, including one focusing on the history of the cemetery.
âAnd there is a lot of history associated with this cemetery that we don’t want to lose,â Small-Toney said. “And a big part is still in the communities, always in the families who will be able to share information with us.”
Roberson told Knight he agreed with what Knight said and suggested he believed the city should move forward as much as possible.
At the same time, Roberson expressed his gratitude to Watkins and told him, “This is a huge undertaking that you have undertaken – and I think what you are hearing is a rush to get the job done.”
City Councilor Reuben Blackwell made it clear to Watkins that he believes she doesn’t need to wait for nominations from committee members for residents to start working with her and helping her on a voluntary basis.
Turning to Small-Toney, Blackwell asked, “When will the trees fall and what area can we start working on now?”
Back and forth between Small-Toney and Blackwell ensued, with Small-Toney pointing out that the town does not have Unity Cemetery, that it is a historic cemetery and that care should be taken not to enter and remove trees and stumps.
Blackwell said he was clear on these points and added that “I don’t need to be re-educated on this.”
Blackwell asked about a schedule for the site check at Unity Cemetery.
Small-Toney said a survey of the cemetery’s boundaries is underway, with completion expected in about a few months.
Small-Toney also stressed that further action must be taken, including whether the municipality would buy the cemetery or whether the cemetery would be donated to the city.
She also said that municipal staff in the meantime were trying to keep the appearance of the cemetery reasonable.
Blackwell asked Small-Toney for a schedule to get the information from the burial records into a computer.
Small-Toney reiterated ongoing discussions with vendors and said it would be better to enter information manually instead of using a document scanner, as something could be inadvertently left out when using this. last method.
Asked by Blackwell, Small-Toney said it will likely take another three months to acquire computer software to process the records, but talks are underway with vendors to make that happen.
Blackwell also asked about the last most important item being the hiring of staff to enter information into a computer.
Small-Toney said, âOur plan is to really use volunteers and not really hire people – but again, it just depends on how quickly the volunteers can work with us. If we have to hire staff to do it part time, then I think we have the budget to do it, but I think our first approach is to really see what we can do with the use of volunteers.