Mortuary owner petitions to remove cemetery district board

Photos and story by Catherine Stachowiak

Robert Guidry owner of Lake Isabella Valley Mortuary held a community meeting Friday, June 14 at his place of business to educate the public regarding his movement to remove trustee members from the Kern River Valley Cemetery District board.

He said that there were violations of codes from the trustees, which were inexcusable, and prevented the cemetery district from providing inurnments to the public. He planned to contact the District Attorney about the code violations.

Randy Kyt and his wife Laura Kyt were removed as district employees in late May, as was their son, who was an on-call gravedigger.  The three were terminated without a current replacement, leaving Guidry without any means to conduct a burial on a family’s behalf.

Guidry had a burial to do, which was pre-set. He had the deceased person’s remains brought in, from Arizona, when it was too late to change anything about the plans for the funeral service.  He couldn’t get hold of the cemetery. 

“Over the years I’ve seen bad decision making in the board members on business decisions,” Guidry said, “We are licensed here in this building. And I have a good track record. And I’m always going to stand for you, the consumer.”

Guidry said he pulled up the Kern County Grand Jury report and found that, in his opinion, most everything on the report concerned board issues, not staffing problems. Guidry believes staffing had nothing to do with the board’s decisions.

Guidry brought up the deposition report, to the board. He talked to the board chair, who told him the burial would be done on the 10th.  Then the family could not bury their relative or hold their funeral on time, but ended up returning to their home in Arizona.  

Board members sit on the board of trustees for a term of 4 years, however the County Board of Supervisors has not appointed a fifth trustee to the board to replace John Blythe who is now an employee at the district. 

Guidry said cemetery district emergency meetings were supposed to be posted 24 hours in advance however the one on the June 5 was posted merely18 hours ahead.

A local invited Cody Criswell, district director for County Supervisor Phillip Peters to Guidry’s meeting the day before, but the meeting was set when Criswell had prior obligations. Criswell said that if the public wants him to attend any meeting they have to set the meeting around Criswell’s schedule, in advance.

Guidry said he called four times leaving messages with Criswell and never got any response from him or Supervisor Peters.

Guidry said his biggest concern was the district being shut down when people entrusted the district with money for their internments. But no internments were occurring because of the firing of two employees and one on-call gravedigger.

Gerry Moffatt brought up was the fact the board of trustees used the nepotism, alleged in the Grand Jury report, as an excuse to fire the employees, who were related. Yet none of the employees answered to one another as supervisor.  They answered to the board of trustees, and therefore he supposed that nepotism was just an excuse to fire Randy and Laura. And they now have no one to manage the district, or conduct burials at the cemetery.

Moffatt read aloud the letter, addressed to the Kyts, regarding performance evaluation and complaints dated May 14, which stated that the board would be meeting in closed session to evaluate Laura Kyt’s performance as district secretary.  The board considered complaints about her performance, her alleged failure to maintain acceptable communication with board members, being unresponsive, alleged failures to accomplish certain goals in the timely fashion. Laura Kyt had the right to receive notice on the closed session. And she had the right to be addressed regarding the concerns and complaints in an open session she could have requested. Moffatt said Kyt needed help and more hours but Blythe only had 8 hours to give her help and Laura Kyt had to repair the work. 

Others at the meeting said they thought the district was using Randy Kyt as a scapegoat and the district ought to have given them notice so new personnel could be trained to replace them and burials could occur. They were concerned that burials were no longer occurring.  Guidry said, “That’s in violation of code 7735, which is punishable by six months in jail, and a $500 fine.  Soon as they quit answering the phones they’re in violation.”

Local Orion Sanders said previously he heard there would be a professional running the cemetery in the interim.  The person would be at the district, in the next couple of days, according to what Supervisor Peters told Sanders.

Guidry said he requested that board of trustees members step down in a letter he presented to the board at their meeting.  

Former groundskeeper, Richard Wolfe said, “This whole thing about nepotism now that they (the board) are bringing up is a bunch of B.S.  And it’s just a way to get them (Randy and Laura Kyt) out of there.  As far as I’m concerned the board can just shove it up their butt for bringing it up right now. This is just their way of clearing traffic to do what they want.”  He also said that the County under-funded the district and had been over working Randy Kyt.  “When I worked there, there was a manager, there was a secretary, there was a full time grounds man and two part time grounds men.  That’s what that cemetery needs to run properly. And poor Randy’s been doing the job of three people busting his ass every day making sure that cemetery is running.” Wolfe said that when he worked up there alone at one point, he ended up permanently injuring himself, because he was doing the work on his own, without any help, when the district ought to have employed more staff. 

Wolfe said the district would need Randy Kyt to train a new grounds keeper because the grounds have tricky pipes and wiring, making it difficult to backhoe.  

Others said the community should pressure the current trustees to get employees at the district so they can reopen the district.  The county was not providing the budget or tools to get the job done.

Local Everett Evans expressed his outrage saying, “Why is it taking four years to become a member on this board? This is what I’m seeing. They’re not vetting anybody. It’s a good old boys club, man. I’m not stupid.”