FARMINGTON — Earlier this month, 50 upset plot owners confronted management at Memory Gardens of Farmington over the poor condition of the grounds there, and the group has since used social media to try to bring about change.
Denise Lovato and her husband, Tony Lovato, started the group over what they say is unacceptable and incompetent management at the Farmington cemetery.
The Lovatos say they heard "only excuses" from Ernest Martinez, regional manager for Serenity and Company, the Phoenix, Ariz., company that has owned Memory Gardens since 2011. Martinez met with the plot owners at the impromptu meeting July 2, and they have since used Facebook and the phone to garner more support.
On July 2, Lovato created a Facebook group called Memory Gardens Protesters Group. Many members have expressed their displeasure by posting photos of and writing about the lack of upkeep at the Farmington cemetery, primarily its sun-bleached lawns, gopher holes and leaning or sinking headstones. The online group had 2,309 members as of Saturday.
Denise Lovato also created an online petition at Change.org, which had collected 1,187 online signatures as of Saturday.
Seventeen members of the group met for a strategy meeting on Thursday in advance of a scheduled meeting at the cemetery on July 22 with the cemetery's owner, Jerry Guttman.
Guttman declined to comment on Friday via email.
Denise Lovato assembled the meeting at City Hall with the help of Councilman Dan Darnell, whose district includes the cemetery.
"The cemetery is in my district, so I offered them a place for them to meet and kind of organize their thoughts," Darnell said by phone on Thursday. "But I have no intention to be involved. It's a district issue, and that's a fine line I'm trying to walk. I'm not a plot owner, either."
Members of the online group, many of whom are meeting each other face-to-face for the first time, agree that a key part of convincing the cemetery to improve conditions will rely on getting plot owners to sign petitions and show up later this month to meet Guttman.
"If they have 5,800 people buried there, and we can get at least 30 percent petitioning, we'll make an impact," Tony Lovato said. "We should send (the owners) a list of all our posts on Facebook in advance of the meeting so they can give us answers at the meeting. Give the owner copies. All we want to hear (July 22) is answers."