Judge sets hearing in mausoleum case

SHELLEY BYRNE/The Mayfield Messenger

Jason Baker (right) listens to Graves District Judge Deborah Hawkins Crooks during a hearing Wednesday in Graves District Court. Baker owns a mausoleum in Highland Park Cemetery that the court previously found to be in violation of the city's chronic nuisance statute because of disrepair. Baker told the judge he is close to finishing repairs.

More than two years after the city of Mayfield took action to address the poor condition of a cemetery mausoleum, it still isn't fixed. But the owner has once again said repairs are coming soon.

"It was never really the roof to begin with," Jason Baker told Graves District Judge Deborah Hawkins Crooks during a hearing Wednesday.

The hearing was to determine if Baker had paid $147,000 in court-ordered fines after he did not originally complete repairs to the city's satisfaction. The fine is $500 a day for the 294 days between when the city notified Baker the mausoleum was out of compliance with city codes and his conviction at a bench trial at which Crooks presided.

Baker has not paid any of the fines but said he has spent more money on repairs.

"I've got about $2,500 left after the (roof) flashing and the new gutter system are being put in," he said.

Crooks asked how long it would take to finish the repairs.

"The flashing is being bent and cut this afternoon in Kevil, and that will be installed by Friday," Baker said.

A French drain system, designed to take excess water from the roof, will be installed within two weeks, he said.

Crooks consulted a calendar and then ordered a show-cause hearing July 31 to determine whether Baker should be jailed for up to 180 days for failure to pay the fines.

Crooks told County Attorney John Cunningham to subpoena a city official to be present at the show-cause hearing to discuss whether repairs have been completed and are sufficient.

Baker's mausoleum is at Highland Park Cemetery in Mayfield. Although the cemetery is city-owned, the mausoleums within it are privately owned. The mausoleum owners sell individual crypt spaces for interment but are responsible for property upkeep.

In March 2017, city officials began trying to contact Baker about the conditions at the mausoleum. They finally were able to subpoena him at the cemetery in August 2017, where he had been called to open and close a crypt for a funeral. In January 2018, Baker became the first person convicted under a chronic nuisance law that allows the city to take criminal action against property owners instead of just levying civil fines or placing liens on property.

Baker has said several times that he has repaired the roof and that it should no longer be a problem, but city officials previously contended the repairs have not been sufficient and have provided photos showing cracks and leaks.

According to a report Mayfield code enforcement supervisor William Higginson provided to the judge and county attorney last summer, a roofing professional told city officials that the work Baker had completed up until that time was "not satisfactory for weather protection for this type of roofing."

Higginson and former city Director of Planning and Community Development John Poole have said the city had a roofing company official climb on the mausoleum roof to examine it. The city now believes it would cost at least $40,000 for repairs, which would have to be done by a licensed roofer.

Poole also raised concerns that the mausoleum may have more extensive structural problems. He said at the Mayfield City Council meeting in July 2018 that portions of the concrete roof over the mausoleum's breezeway are sinking and that an engineering consultation appeared to be needed. The city does not have a structural engineer on staff.

At the time Poole expressed concerns about the mausoleum's structural stability since, as part of the repairs, Baker had disconnected I-beams on the mausoleum's roof, believing leaks were from bolt holes drilled through the I-beams and into the roof.

"If you get rid of the I-beams (on the roof) without having an engineer approving how to shore that up, it could collapse in the middle there," Poole told the city council at the time.

Baker said he has met several times with Mayfield Mayor Kathy O'Nan and other city officials recently about the scope of work to be done.

"So there has been a lot of work done in the last three weeks," he said.

Without naming Poole by name, he suggested a former city codes official had insisted on more extensive repairs that he believes were unnecessary. He said he felt nothing could be done to satisfy him of the sufficiency of the repairs.

No city officials attended Wednesday's court hearing, but none were subpoenaed to do so. The court does not typically ask complaining witneses to come to reviews of defendants' payment plans.

Higginson said Thursday it was difficult for him to tell where water accumulating at the mausoleum is coming from.

"Unfortunately, with the way the water was coming off, there was no way of telling whether it was coming off the roof or through the sides," he said.

O'Nan said she has talked to Baker several times recently and has also fielded calls from three people concerned about mausoleum conditions. She has referred each of them to the state attorney general's office.

"We'll go as far as Googling it and giving them the phone number," said Higginson, who said he has heard from some of the same people.

Alan Adams, whose parents, grandparents, aunt and uncle are all interred at the mausoleum, said previously that his aunt has called the office of consumer protection within the state attorney general's office. Adams said the office told his aunt that without more people filing complaints, they could not assign an investigator to look into the matter further. A reporter's call to the attorney general's office was not immediately returned Thursday.

As for what more the city might do, city attorney Dennis Null said it is difficult to answer.

"It's questionable as to whether legally the city has any standing to do anything on this situation other than make a request of the state attorney general's office, or wherever, about this," Null said. He said he would certainly have no objection to doing so, if requested by city officials.

He pointed out that the St. Jerome Fancy Farm Picnic is coming up next month and that some Graves County citizens with loved ones in the mausoleum might want to bring up their concerns to state officials in person when they visit.

"Surely there is someone in the state who can take some action in this regard," Null said.

He said a previous situation involving hog waste lagoons that were to be built in Graves and Hickman counties was addressed by citizens the same way a few years ago when state officials came to town for the picnic.

"As a result of those conversations, they were not built," Null said.

Some family members remain upset and blame Baker for what they continue to see as unacceptable mausoleum conditions.

Ernie Enoch, who has family interred at the mausoleum, said he had visited the mausoleum as recently as earlier this week.

"The one where my mom is buried, the rain is still coming all down through there," Enoch said. "Water is still coming through the ceiling."