Regulators in Missouri and Kansas will be pursuing legislation this spring for more authority in providing oversight to cemeteries. With its Burr Oak problems, Illinois can’t be too far behind.
Whether it is the economy or the unscrupulous owner, regulators are finding they lack both the expertise and authority to properly protect the cemetery consumer.
The media loves a story like the one that broke on Friday about the Maryland cemetery owner that was arrested in Texas. In 2008, Mr. Deffenbaugh was charged with felony theft, and allowed to avoid prison time with an arrangement that was to provide restitution of $1,000,000. When it came time to pay the piper in 2009, the owner staged his own death by “falling off his boat” in the Chesapeake Bay.
In contrast, brief news reports were offered about a Barrett, Missouri cemetery that faces bankruptcy after its owner died, leaving no one to continue its operation.
When regulators seek reform legislation, they have both situations in mind, but it is the “Deffenbaugh card” that wins legislative votes. Cemetery owners rail when the card is played, but it is the troubled cemetery operator that consumes the regulators’ time and resources. With regard to the ‘other’ situation, there are few solutions for failing cemeteries, other than passing the responsibility for upkeep to cities or counties (and their taxpayers).
Finding effective answers to both situations will require greater interaction between the regulator and the cemetery industry. If they are to become more effective at providing oversight, cemetery regulators must gain crucial experience that can only be derived from reputable operators. And until the regulator has a firmer grip on the industry’s better business practices, legislation will often represent a give and take exchange that may span years until a workable solution is reached.