Norfolk defends hiring cemetery record keeper


by David Alan

Posted on September 27, 2010 at 6:10 PM

Updated Monday, Sep 27 at 6:08 PM

NORFOLK -- After nearly 400 years, Norfolk rightly can boast of real treasure in its cemeteries.

"Norfolk has an historical wealth and cultural treasure in its cemeteries, everything from the Civil War to the War of 1812 to the epidemics," said Terry Bishirijian of the City of Norfolk.

In that, the city sees economic opportunity in cemetery tourism and believes that a genealogist specialist will help bring more people to the area to explore the stories of those buried here.

Council members had a good chuckle when we tried to get to the bottom of why now, with times so tough, add a cemetery record keeper who gets paid $42,000.  

The city recently had to lay off 200 workers and doesn't yet know where the next light rail payment will come.

City Manager Regina Williams last week explained her decision to council in part by saying burial records have fallen behind.

"We keep most of the records on 3" x 5" cards," she stated.

People we talked to who keep the records now and maintain the city's cemetery Website, a mix of paid employees and volunteers, told us burial records are largely up to date.

Williams stated council created the position in 2006, when times were better, and only filled in 2010.

Williams told us she would like to sit down with us about her decision to fill the position. We're waiting to hear from her.

When times are so tough, no one asked why.

Jim Brewer, president of Norfolk's Fraternal Order of Police, wants to know why the city filled the position now.

"It's getting to be business as usual," Brewer stated. "We've lost positions. We haven't gotten raises."

Brewer is frustrated, saying dedicated officers are being asked to do more and more and he can't understand why the city always can seem to find the money for the things its wants to do.

"The voters in the City of Norfolk are the only ones who can do anything about it because they are going to let the management do whatever they want to do," Brewer stated.

People we spoke with saw real value in preserving Norfolk's cemeteries, but some questioned whether now is the right time to hire a genealogy specialist.