Two Los Banos Cemetary District board members have resigned as a months-long battle over the facility’s decorations policy appears to be winding down.
Former board members Tony Mellilo, 91, and Mike Villalta, 63, resigned this month, making them the second and third persons to do so since the spring of 2013 when members of the public claimed cemetery manager Deborah Lewis was removing or discarding certain decorations at their loved ones’ graves. Duane Brehm, a former board member, resigned in July, citing a death in the family.
Mellilo and Villalta both said the controversy involving the decorations policy did not factor into their decision.
“This (decision) is all on my own. My wife is not too well,” Mellilo said, adding that the board meetings cause him to be more than 10 miles away from her at night.
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Mellilo was appointed to the board in 1999.
Villalta, who is also Los Banos’ mayor, said he can no longer keep up with his commitments at City Hall and give the proper attention to the cemetery board.
“We have water issues, highway issues ... and we have a city manager who tries to keep me involved,” Villalta said.
Board members faced a steady stream of criticism when items placed at graves started to disappear because Lewis had found them in violation of the Los Banos Cemetery’s decorations policy.
Villalta said he was not fazed by the negative opinions.
“People in appointed positions are going to face criticism,” Villalta said.
At its February meeting, the board voted for a revised decorations policy. The new policy allows items such as additional vases to be placed at grave sites as long as they’re not located in grass areas. Also under the proposal, additional decorations would be allowed for up to two weeks after birthdays and holidays.
Villalta, who worked on and voted for the new policy before resigning from the board, said he requested that the new rules be brought back for a second vote in February to consider inserting “additional days of reverence.”
Board President Geri Alves said she expects Villalta’s and Mellilo’s replacements to be appointed by next month’s meeting. Merced County Supervisor Jerry O’Banion is responsible for making the appointment.