WALLINGFORD — A bill that would establish a way to handle complaints against cemetery sextons is making its way through the state legislature.
State Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford, introduced the original bill, which was referred to the Judiciary Committee as HB 7315 in January. It would amend state statues to say complaints alleging sextons violated their duties in processing cemetery-related permits and records would be filed in probate court.
Currently, sextons are subject to a fine capped at $100 per day if they don’t file records within the set timeframe. However, the law is murky on the agency that issues the fines.
Fishbein said Tuesday that William Comerford, a former member of the Center Street Cemetery Association, brought the issue to his attention.
Fishbein is Comerford’s attorney in a Freedom of Information Commission complaint involving access to Center Street Cemetery records.
Comerford claims the cemetery association violated the Freedom of Information Act when officials denied his April 2018 request to review documents and emails created by the agency, saying the association is the “functioning equivalent of a public agency,” according to the complaint.
A hearing officer, though, has recommended that the Freedom of Information Commission dismiss the complaint at its meeting today, saying the cemetery association shouldn’t be considered the functionioning equivalent of a public agency.
Town Clerk Barbara Thompson, who was asked to testify during a January hearing for the FOIA complaint and provide certain records, said Tuesday that she told the hearing officer the records in question were never filed with her office. She also said she can’t compel officials to file records.
“I would support the bill because I think it would take the responsibility out of the clerk’s office,” she said. “Maybe it would encourage more expedient record filing.”
Bob Devaney, Center Street Cemetery superintendent, said Tuesday his attorney told him not to comment.
The Center Street Cemetery, established in 1683, is the burial site of many influential figures in the town's history. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997.
The cemetery association was founded in 1911 and receives the majority of its annual funding from the town.
Comerford said Tuesday that he could not find a clear answer when searching for the authority that would enforce the statue and issue the fines for failing to file records.
“The big picture here is that shouldn’t be allowed to happen,” Comerford said.