Cemetery manager resigns

cpride@losbanosenterprise.comFebruary 28, 2014 

LOS BANOS ENTERPRISE

After months of being accused of not showing compassion toward grieving families, criticized for enforcing the cemetery’s decorations policy and members of the public requesting a change in personnel, Los Banos Cemetery District Manager Deborah Lewis has resigned.

At a special cemetery board meeting Wednesday night, Lewis gave her resignation effective March 9.

Lewis did not return phone calls from the Enterprise Thursday morning , but did deliver a press release confirming her resignation and wishing the cemetery and the board that oversees it well.

“I want to extend my heartfelt thanks to the members of the cemetery board, the hard-working crew and the public for the support they have shown me...” Lewis wrote. “While being mindful of the duties entrusted to me by the district and the public, I leave my position with the sincere hope that the grounds continue to be maintained in good order and that the cemetery is secure for the future generations of our Los Banos community.”

Lewis, who was named cemetery manager in 2012, spent most of last year embroiled in controversy. Families visiting the cemetery began to notice flowers, angels, lights and other items placed at their loved ones’ graves weren’t there anymore. Lewis had overseen their removal, storing them in a nearby shed in most cases and throwing items away if they had been damaged. Residents were further outraged by a handful of incidents in the past year in which Lewis blocked grieving families from having certain remembrances like children’s handprints on a siblings headstone, stating that it was against policy.

Stanley Silva, who was told to remove his loved one’s wooden cross last year, was pleased with Lewis’ resignation.

“Wow, that’s good,” he said. “I think it’s great. I feel she may be good at something, but she was not good at this job.”

Silva said he hopes that Lewis’ resignation can help the cemetery board “start the healing process” with members of the public.

Cemetery Board President Duane Brehm said he’s sorry to see Lewis leave the job and she brought an organization that the facility lacked before her arrival.

When asked about the anger directed toward Lewis in the past year Brehm said, “That position is a tough one for anybody to be in.”

Brehm said the board hopes to hire Lewis’ replacement within the next month.

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