Honestly, Alderman Burke has been a Chicago Alderman for as long as I can remember. He has been an Alderman back in the day when it was normal and customary for Aldermen to give out City deals. And now there is news he helped get some city deals? Ok, so maybe it is an issue now where it's always been a non issue?
Why does Cook County Commissioner Deborah Sims have to wait until the local South Side Paper gets involved for something to be done in her district? This was not the first time there were problems in her district with the same cemetery, what was she waiting for? Oh, ya, it to get newspaper coverage.
How can this be new news?Ald. Edward M. Burke wrote a letter in his official capacity that helped a client of his law firm win City Council approval to develop a blighted stretch of land near Midway Airport.
It's the second time Burke has written such a letter so someone he's done business with could get a zoning change from City Hall. After writing those letters, Burke abstained from voting on both cases to avoid any conflicts of interest.
Ald. Edward Burke removed himself from voting on two development deals for his associates. He did however write letters of support for each project.
In the most recent case, Burke wrote a letter July 18, 2007, endorsing a development project for Calvin Boender -- who was indicted last month along with Ald. Isaac Carothers (29th) on bribery charges stemming from a different project.
Boender, who has been a client of Burke's law firm for at least four years, hired Burke to seek property tax cuts on 14 properties -- only one in the city of Chicago -- since Aug. 15, 2005, records show. Seven of the cases were filed before Burke wrote a letter endorsing Boender's plans to redevelop the corner of 43rd and Cicero in Burke's 14th Ward.
Deborah Sims had a complaint, her only comment, "She has had other complaints"Barbara Bell, of Chicago, was "in a bad way" last month and wanted to visit her mother's grave to talk out her problems. Unfortunately, her mother, or at least her mother's grave marker, was not where Bell was figuring it to be.
Instead she found the stone stacked up with a couple of dozen other markers along the side of a maintenance building at the east end of Homewood Memorial Gardens cemetery.
Bell had not been to the cemetery in four years. On her visit in 2005, Bell discovered her mother's marker had been removed so the cemetery could do landscaping work. Cemetery workers assured Bell that her mother's grave marker would be back in the ground in a few weeks.
"It was lying on some two-by-fours and I went over and cleaned it off," Bell recalled. "It hurt me to think she'd been in an unmarked grave all that time, but I didn't cry and act like a fool. I started making some phone calls instead."
One of those phone calls was to Cook County Commissioner Deborah Sims, whose district includes the cemetery property.
"I had talked to the cemetery again and they told me it would take a week, but it was in the ground two hours after contacting (Cook County Commissioner) Deborah Sims - this after four years."
Sims said she has heard other complaints about the cemetery, so she made a conference call to Homewood Memorial Gardens with Bell. "I told them four years was unacceptable," Sims said. "They were polite about it, and they resolved it then and there."
Returned to the wrong grave?
Though Bell appreciates the marker is back in the ground, she worries if it has been put down in the right place. She said she remembered it being closer to a road that runs along the section of the cemetery where her mother is buried, and she remembers another tree being nearby.
"What if this is not where my mother really is?" Bell said while standing near the replaced marker. "If it's not right, I may as well have been standing by her marker over at that maintenance shed."
Tom Flynn, owner of Homewood Memorial Gardens, said the cemetery uses steel rebars that stick out of the ground to mark every grave site when workers remove grave stones for any reason. The cemetery also has maps indicating where people are buried. He said the area has been reconfigured and trees have been removed since Bell was there four years ago.
"Not getting that marker back in the ground sooner was our fault. She has a right to be upset about that," Flynn said.
"But it is exactly where her mother is. We've taken trees down in that area in the last few years so it may look different. I understand her concern."
Flynn argued that the tombstones and markers piled up near the maintenance shed may fall into several categories, including recently shipped markers or ones that have been swapped for other markers by family.
"Markers are sometimes replaced by military markers or added to a family monument. Some of them may belong to areas we're now landscaping," he said. "Cemeteries accumulate a lot of markers."
Bell's marker mishap is only the latest in a string of problems at Homewood Memorial Gardens.
In a grisly incident last June, a mud-covered human leg was discovered sticking out of the ground in an area of the cemetery where indigents are buried.
Five families filed a lawsuit against the cemetery in December 2007, citing such problems as misplaced bodies and broken coffins strewn. They also complained they were not informed where their family members were buried.
A Dolton man, Rayfel Harrison, has filed a lawsuit against the cemetery claiming his brother Teddy's marker was also removed in 2006 then relocated to another site.
Harrison said he was "perplexed and confounded trying to figure out where Teddy's grave was" when he went there on Mother's Day in 2006. Harrison said he rediscovered the marker two and a half weeks later, a good 30 yards away from where he thought it belonged.
Flynn denies Harrison's version, saying the marker was never moved, only covered with mud after being pushed down in the ground by a backhoe doing work on a nearby grave.
"It was never moved and his brother is where he's always been," Flynn said. "Markers get mud on them when work is being done."
Harrison did not buy the excuse. "Saying it was covered with mud and lost is unacceptable," he said. "There's a principle here. I want them to acknowledge their wrong and offer compensation for our distress."
Alan Henry, a spokesman for Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes' office, said the office has received 42 complaints in the past 10 years, including three last year and two this year concerning the Homewood cemetery. The complaints range from deplorable conditions to the deceased not being buried deep enough. "Most involve indigent burials," Henry said. "Their expectations of how the grave site should be and how it actually appears causes problems."
Flynn has owned the 152-year-old cemetery for 40 years. For the past 30 years, the cemetery has had a contract with Cook County to bury the indigent. Flynn said his cemetery is often the only bidder.
Flynn said his family and cemetery workers know how to run a cemetery and take pride in providing a site for people who can't afford it. "This is a nice cemetery. We care deeply about it. People talk to newspapers but they don't know a damn thing about the cemetery business. Anyone can sue anybody. It's aggravating."
John K. Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (708) 802-8807.
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