Cremated remains will get 2nd airing

Published 4:54 pm Thursday, September 21, 2023

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Cremated remains currently lodged in a vault in the Claiborne County Mayor’s office will get a second airing during the October Claiborne Commission meeting.

The commissioners tabled the matter until new verbiage can be included in the resolution to address concerns brought up during discussion.

The county began its unofficial collection of the now 19 unclaimed cremains sometime around 2006. The exact date is not known. Since then, one or two family members have come forward to take ownership but were reportedly turned away until the cremation costs initially paid by the county are reimbursed in full.

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“Can’t we just donate these to their families? Could we amend the resolution to allow those families that want the remains to have them,” said Commissioner Mitchell Cosby.

County Mayor Joe Brooks said during the September meeting that he stopped the practice of accepting unclaimed remains. He relented on reimbursement charges, saying he is now agreeable to handing over any of the remains to next of kin, free of charge – as long as they can prove they are related to the person.

Brooks did say there are two sets of remains that are yet to be identified. He added that he had contacted many of the families whose loved ones were languishing inside the vault and that seven of those families were not interested in claiming the remains.

Resolution 2023-092, if adopted, will grant the county provision to bury the cremains at the Tazewell Methodist Cemetery, located behind the Claiborne County Courthouse. According to the resolution, the county has maintained the cemetery for over 30 years.

However, there may be a wrench thrown into the plans. According to state records, there should be 50 burial sites in the cemetery, but only 23 plots have markers. That leaves 27 graves that could be located anywhere inside the cemetery grounds.

Cosby asked if the county could contact other cemeteries to see if they would be agreeable to interring some of the cremains.

The resolution also calls for County Attorney James Estep III to file a Complaint in Chancery Court to order the burials. According to the resolution, the county would then be responsible for providing maintenance of records identifying the locations, if available, and identities of the buried bodies.

The resolution, once adopted, will also give the county authorization moving forward to bury paupers at the cemetery.

According to Estep, the county has no authority to declare cemetery ownership – something that he says was inadvertently left in the heading but was removed on edit in the body of the resolution.

Estep said the county is going to be respectful of the descendants of those already buried in the Methodist Cemetery.

“We’re not going to haul off and bury without everybody (the descendants of those interred) being notified,” said Estep.