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City of Selma officials stop Selma businessman from cleaning up cemetery

By James Jones and Dennis Palmer

The Selma Times-Journal

A Selma businessman said he was asked Monday afternoon by City officials to cease cleaning up Old Live Oak Cemetery, something he and his employees were volunteering to do and had done before.

Snow Cleaning Service owner Lemarkus A. Snow said Monday the City’s Director of Cemetery, Reginald Wells, approached him in Old Live Oak Cemetery and said he couldn’t do community service at the cemetery.

“I attempted to clean Old Live Cemetery for free due to the unsafe conditions when family members visit for the Fourth of July and so Selma would be beautiful,” Snow said. “The Cemetery Director brought a crew and demanded that I stop immediately and leave the premises. He called loads of police officers to have me removed and stop work. He’s been the cemetery director for five months on a $50,000 salary and has yet to clean up Harrison and old Live Oak Cemeteries.”

Snow said he went through the proper channels to do community service, something he and his employees have been doing around Selma for more than a year in an attempt to help beautify the city.

“I signed a volunteer liability waiver of rights to do community service and filed it with the city’s attorney,” Snow said. “My being here was in good faith. It’s a shame when you’re treated like a criminal when you’re only trying to clean up the city.”

Snow said that Selma Mayor James Perkins Jr. came to the cemetery and defused the situation, but Snow admitted he doesn’t understand why he was asked to stop doing something such as cutting grass at the city cemetery.

In response to the many questions and concerns, Perkins held a press conference Wednesday where he addressed why Snow was asked to stop, and how volunteerism on behalf of the community should be handled in the future.

“Though I regret the incident that occurred at Old Live Oak Cemetery involving Mr. LeMarkus Snow, and the cemetery director Mr. Reginald Wells, it did not start at the cemetery on that day,” Perkins said. “It actually started when Mr. Snow told the city council what he was going to do, with or without authorization. It is not acceptable for any citizen to be disrespectful to any person hired, or elected to serve the public. It is concerning for anyone to state publicly what they are going to do on city property and dare anyone to stop them. It is unrealistic to condone public defiance of authority, and then expect our youth to respect authority.

“First and foremost as mayor my involvement in the cemetery conflict was to deescalate the situation between what I saw as a silent department head, and a vocal, and seemingly very angry citizen. I ended that situation. I separated the parties by asking the citizen to leave and the immediate conflict was brought under control.”

Perkins said he was not taking sides, but his intentions were to “cool the situation down. He also said if citizens judge him harshly for the way he handled it, it was their right but suggested similar tactics and less “venomous social media” would go a long way toward resolving conflicts in Selma.

“To say you love Selma, then throw gasoline on a fire makes untrue what you say and does more harm to the community than good to the community,” he said.

Perkins also spoke about volunteerism in the city, and his desire not to stamp it out, but to make it a more collaborative and inclusive process.

“Are citizens allowed to volunteer service on public property? The answer is absolutely yes, but with respectful communication between all parties. All volunteers should pre-clear their intentions with the department head who is responsible for the area of interest.”

After several questions, concerns and scenarios relating to the volunteerism policy, Perkins said city department head’s phone numbers would be posted the city’s website so citizens could more easily contact department heads and request the access to do so.

Selma City Councilman Clay Carmichael showed his support for Snow’s community service and plans to help resolve the issue.

“I fully support everything Snow’s Cleaning Service has done for our city over the years,” Carmichael said. “While I don’t understand why it would be necessary to take a vote for any specific volunteer or organization to provide community service for the City of Selma, I will present a resolution at our next Council meeting allowing him to continue his good work maintaining public properties.”

In a Facebook post, longtime City Councilwoman Jannie Thomas apologized to Snow on behalf of City of Selma and also plans to take care of the situation.

“I want to apologize for what happened to you on behalf of the City of Selma,” Thomas said in a social media post. “You have been volunteering community service to the entire city of Selma. Thank you for all what you do. The Selma [City] Council will take care of this problem.”