Grand jury unearths problems at Clovis cemetery district

Report from Fresno County Grand Jury finds no active plot with cemetery district; lays blame on personnel and infrastructure issues

Fresno County Courthouse located at 1100 Van Ness in Fresno. (Kenny Goodman)
Fresno County Courthouse located at 1100 Van Ness in Fresno. (Kenny Goodman)
Darren Fraser
Published May 7, 2024  • 
11:00 am

FRESNO COUNTY – In its latest report, the Fresno County Grand Jury dug deep into the administration and operation of the Clovis Cemetery District and discovered that, while the District received passing marks on the whole, it fell short of various government code and local government requirements.

The District was created over 100 years ago. Since 1925, it has operated under the California Code of Public Health. It has 15 employees, including the district manager, an operations manager, two office staff and nine groundskeepers. The District also employs temporary staff on a seasonal basis.

The District, which is a special district and is governed by the rules and regulations of the Fresno County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo), is under the purview of the Fresno County Board of Supervisors. It stretches across three supervisory districts and includes Clovis Cemetery, Red Bank Cemetery, Auberry Cemetery, Tollhouse Cemetery and Academy Cemetery.

REPORT FINDINGS

In compiling its report, which was posted on May 1, 2024, the Grand Jury conducted interviews with individuals familiar with the district. It reviewed FAFCo policies, relevant government codes and financial documents. The Grand Jury attended a Board of Trustees meeting for the district and inspected Clovis Cemetery.

According to the Grand Jury report, the District does not have a website, as required by Government Code 53087.8. The District did have a website designer, but administrative and personnel issues imploded the progress. The report did note that the District has found a new designer, who is currently developing a website.

The landscaping at Clovis and Red Bank cemeteries is poorly maintained. The Grand Jury investigation discovered that both locations experienced problems with their wells, which resulted in grass dying. The well in Clovis is over 20 years old. A motor in the well’s pump burned out, breaking the pump. A new motor has since been installed. The 35-year-old well at Red Bank dried up. A newer, deeper well has been dug.

Of more concern to the Grand Jury was the fact the District failed to perform a financial audit since 2019. Government Code 26909 requires special districts, unless they have an exception, to conduct annual, independent audits. The District does not have an exception.

The Grand Jury’s investigation found that there were two reasons why no audit has been conducted in five years. One: the District’s former accounting firm was disqualified from practicing, and as a result, the District’s financial records were not prepared. The second reason was due to personnel changes. This resulted in no one preparing a complete set of financial records. According to the report, the District has retained a new accounting firm and it is preparing financial records for the years 2018 through 2023.

The Grand Jury did review the District’s 2023 Income and Expense report and the General Ledger. For 2023, the District had expenditures of approximately $3 million. The Grand Jury found the District did have a positive cash flow.

The Brown Act requires that government actions and meetings are transparent and open to the public. According to the Act, meetings of local government bodies must be open to the public and notice of a meeting must be posted at least 72 hours in advance of the meeting.

The District has a five member board. The board meets the third Tuesday of every month, which means the board’s meeting agenda must be posted no later than the prior Saturday. 

The board posts its agenda on the front window of the meeting room at Clovis Cemetery. The Grand Jury visited the cemetery before two scheduled meetings – on Sept. 19, 2023 and Feb. 9, 2024. No notice was posted in advance of either meeting. Nothing in the report indicates the District has taken steps to remedy this issue.

The Grand Jury notes the District is aware of and has addressed most of the issues contained in the report. At the conclusion of the report, the Grand Jury made eight findings and seven recommendations, all of which were addressed in the report. The District has 90 days from the date of the report to respond to the findings and recommendations.

Darren Fraser
Reporter