Cemetery debate is a personnel issue

October 18, 2013 

Since May members of the community have been debating with the Los Banos Cemetery District board over the policy of decorating loved ones graves and what is considered, “following policy rules”.

The policy has not changed in over a decade, however, the person enforcing the rules has. We believe this is a personnel issue concerning the Cemetery District Manager, Deborah Lewis.

Hats off to Pat Gallicho, the newest board member, for respectfully listening with open ears. Thank you to Merced County Supervisor Jerry O’Banion for attending the board meetings. Since both have become actively involved there is a chance for a change.

We appreciate board members Geri Alves and Toni Russell. The cemetery has bigger issues to focus on and the current policy discussion is probably not why either of you chose to serve.

Board member Tony Melillo has devoted many years and many major positive changes have come from your time on the board. It’s time new faces had a chance to make a difference.

Board member Mike Villalta is also the mayor of Los Banos. Cemetery District Manager, Deborah Lewis is also a Los Banos City Council Member. We cannot find any laws prohibiting city council members from also serving and working for a cemetery district. The cemetery district manager works for the board of which Mike Villalta is a board member. There may not be a legal conflict of interest, but rather a moral conflict.

The issue of leaving items on loved ones graves is not, and should not be, a political issue. Stop running the cemetery board like city hall. The issue is not about another notch on a political belt or how much authority one can throw around. You are dealing with people who are grieving.

When a loved one is buried you do not want to be harassed or treated with coldness. Arguing over how many solar lights or small personal items being placed on a grave is not right.

The issue is a personnel issue that all board members need to address. We are fighting for every soul laid to rest in the Los Banos District Cemetery and their families left behind.

Stan Silva

Los Banos

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