Embattled cemetery unexpectedly hires during closed session, Sanders new manager 

County supervisor Phillip Peters sent two retired district managers to advise KRVCPD

Photos and story by Catherine Stachowiak

The Kern River Valley Public Cemetery District (KRVPCD) board of trustees met, Friday June 21, in a closed session, wherein the board offered local businessman and Kernville Chamber of Commerce president, Orion Sanders the position of district manager.  The board also hired a new secretary Tamela Ashlock. The two are expected to replace the two former longtime employees, who the district terminated, for alleged nepotism, causing upheaval and suspicion from within the community and closing the district from any burials.

The board expects Sanders to sign a letter of acceptance this week for the position, which includes a 32-hour workweek, with a start date of June 21, according to what board chair Harry Schutstz told editor John Watkins. 

At the previous district meeting, Monday June 17, it became apparent that the first speaker, Tamela Ashlock was expecting something different from the board, than a mere public comment period.  She said Schutstz invited her to the board that day.  She’s regent of the DAR. Then she passed copies of her resume to the board members.

Newly hired KRVCPD district manager Orion Sanders

“I’ve come here today to offer my support to the board. I have approximately 30 years experience in a secretarial capacity. I’ve done everything from $4 million budgets, to presentations to the board, minutes, supported vice presidents, so I have a full range of history with that.” 

Ashlock said that more recently she returned to school and then graduated from university in Oregon. “Since that time my sister was under my healthcare. That’s how Harry and I got to know each other. And so in 2014 I moved here,” she said.

Sunday, June 23, district employee John Blythe, a former trustee to the board confirmed to a  Kern Valley Sun reporter, saying “Tamela  Ashlock was hired as the new secretary.  Orion Sanders was hired Friday, as the new district manager.”

In a statement to the editor John Watkins, owner of the Kern Valley Sun, June 23, the chair to the board of trustees at KRVCD Harry Schustz said “She (Tamela Ashlock) will serve as cemetery district clerk/secretary.” 

No date for resumption of burials is set, though Schutstz hopes internments would occur very soon.   Hereafter the district offices would be open weekdays 9am to 2pm.  The next district board meeting is July 9 at 1pm and thereafter the second Tuesday of August.

During the June 17 meeting another visitor, Jerry Moffat questioned the board implying there was nepotism within the board of trustees and the district, which cast a shadow of doubt on the board’s claim that the reason the district dismissed Randy and Laura Kyt was nepotism. He said, “Because part of Randy and Laura’s (Kyt’s) dismissal was nepotism, I asked John (Blythe) if Mike (board member Michael Ryan) worked for him at Paradise Cove.  And he said that he donates his time, a volunteer of a working business. That sounds fishy. I’ve never heard of anybody in my life volunteering time for a business. So looks like there’s a gray area there.”

Ryan answered Moffatt’s charge, saying, “I’ve lived up here well over 40 -years. I have volunteered at the Elks Lodge, heavily.  I volunteered at the Eagles Lodge, as a volunteer, not a pay.  I’m retired Kern County Probation Department. I came in and helped them (Paradise Cove) out on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and New Year’s Eve tending bar.”  Ryan said he worked his way through college, tending bar, 55 years ago and likes doing it.  He was a friend of Pam Smith’s and John Blythe’s who own the business. 

Blythe said a financial accountant was supposed to be present that week.  The plan was to get at least three of the years 2016, 2017, and 2018 of cemetery records ready for audit as per requirements.  

Moffatt said it would have been better to ask Laura and Randy to retire at the end of the year, so they could train new people, rather than making them quit and the Kyts would have worked to assure burials continued.

Tehachapi Cemetery District manager Danny Brown, consultant to the district, was not present.  Schutstz introduced Tim Unruh former retired district manager for Kern County Cemetery District and Joel Bauer, former retired district manager for West Side Cemetery District.  Schutstz said, “So between these two guys they’ve got 52 years of experience. So the county reached out to them. And they’re here to help and give us direction and jump in and help wherever they can.  It includes training.”

Unruh said, he had 32 years with cemetery districts. He was recently retired. “The whole goal here for me is to meet the needs of the community and get back on track, as best possible doing what it takes to facilitate the needs for the cemetery at this point in time and within my retirement schedule try to help.”  

Bauer said he worked in the cemetery district for 24 years, and was retired for three years. “I’m well aware of policy and the Brown Act and what needs to be corrected. Primarily the goal is to get somebody in here to fill this position.  And then Tim and I can train that individual and help him to navigate through the waters.”  Bauer stated that the mapping system and all that is in place at the district would be difficult to understand.

Unruh said getting back to burials at the cemetery would take some time because they can’t even determine the mapping system for burials. Nothing was obvious about who owns what and people have pre paid burials. 

Bauer said he and Unruh were not invested in the community at all, but were civic minded and wanted to help, but needed the tools to do so.

Sanders asked if the board had plans to reach out to the family, which was scheduled June 10 for internment. “That plot is already chosen. It shouldn’t be hard to figure out which one that is. It would have their names,” Sanders said.  It was common knowledge that the person scheduled for burial had family already buried at the district.

Newly hired KRVCPD secretary clerk Tamela Ashlock 

The consultants admitted that they did not have a clue where the internment, from June 10 would be located.

Sanders asked if anyone within the county’s resources could come in and man the phones for the district?

Moffatt asked if would be easier for the consultants if Randy and Laura Kyt were willing to advise them until the end of the year.  Bauer said it would be easier for the two consultants and was logical to him. Bauer said he knows Randy personally and worked with him and thought he was a good guy.  However the consultants were not the ones to determine either way.  

Sanders asked if the consultants didn’t understand the maps, what is the next step the district would take?  Schutstz said the board was going into a closed session, which the advisors were allowed to attend.  He assured that the phones being answered at the district was a priority to the board.

Kevin Kyt, Randy Kyt’s cousin spoke on behalf of his cousin Randy Kyt, which the Kern Valley Sun reported in a separated article 

The board of trustees then went to a closed session. On the agenda for the closed session was the appointment/ recruitment of a district manager and secretary.