Shenanigans at Goshen cemeteries lead to new rules

·4 min read

Jan. 19—GOSHEN — Faced with increasing reports of shenanigans within the city's cemeteries, Goshen City Council members Tuesday approved an ordinance establishing new rules for when and how people will be allowed to visit those properties in the future.

Helping to introduce the ordinance request Tuesday was Burt Matteson, director of cemeteries for the city.

"We have had, in recent months, an up-tick of activity after dark in the cemeteries, including a lot of alcohol consumption, and we had neighborhood individuals come to us requesting that we do something," Matteson said of his motivations for pursing the ordinance. "We've sat down with the chief and talked through some of this, and as we went back and looked at the ordinances, we discovered that we didn't have an ordinance against alcohol in the cemeteries. We thought we did. And we also didn't have an ordinance closing the cemeteries at dusk, which we thought we did. So, we decided we needed that in order to give the police the ability to enforce those things."

According to Goshen Mayor Jeremy Stutsman, alcohol consumption during larger gatherings at the cemeteries has become a particularly troubling concern, as has the playing of loud music, and even the occasional launching of fireworks.

"Now, fireworks we can do something about," Stutsman said, "but this ordinance will definitely help the police department, and Burt, better maintain and regulate what's going on in our cemeteries."

When asked about how he has handled cemetery rules and regulations in the past, Matteson noted that the city's Cemetery Board already has an extensive list of regulations, though those are not typically enforced by police, as these new rules will be.

"Most of those I can enforce myself," Matteson said. "So, we don't typically bring the whole set to the council. We just bring it to the Cemetery Board for approval."

But for rules that allow for police enforcement, such rules are required by state law to be approved by the council, Stutsman explained.

THE ORDINANCE

As approved, the new ordinance prohibits the use of alcohol within the city's cemetery properties, and also stipulates that the cemeteries will now be closed after dark, restricting gatherings and services to daylight hours only.

As for loud music, Stutsman noted that the city already has a noise ordinance which will cover that aspect of cemetery visits.

"And we want to remain cognizant of families and the grieving they go through," Stutsman added. "Most of the negative activity we're seeing tends to be gang related. So, we're attempting to get at that. We're not trying to shut families down that just want to be there with their loved ones. But a majority of families don't come out during the dark hours."

Upon opening the discussion up to the public, Tom Rose, a longtime resident of the Larimer Village neighborhood, which abuts West Goshen Cemetery, said he, too, has noticed an up-tick in shenanigans within the cemetery in recent years, and expressed support for passage of the new ordinance.

"Our concern is the activity there after dark," Rose told the council. "During the day, hey, have all kinds of celebrations you want."

Asked how he anticipates getting word of the new rules out to the public, Matteson said he has already begun talking with local funeral directors to see if they'd be willing to mention the new rules to families.

"So, we will communicate this to them, as much as they're willing and able to do that," he said. "And we will be posting some signs as well. So, that would be what I have. And we could do a press release, I suppose, if needed."

"And like I said, we don't want to get in the way of families doing what they need to do, but we need to cut down on the activities that are happening as far as the negative side of things," Stutsman added prior to Tuesday's vote.

The council's members agreed, and the ordinance was approved unanimously.

John Kline can be reached at john.kline@goshennews.com or 574-533-2151, ext. 240315. Follow John on Twitter @jkline_TGN.