Crematory Opposition Action Plan
List of Do’s & Don’t
1. DO: Organize & motivate your community. Everyone there has a stake in this and should be involved because they all stand to lose if the crematory goes forward. People will lose property value, they will not be able to enjoy their property, their children will be exposed to even MORE pollution in a form that is MOST toxic (vapors in the air) at a time when they are MOST vulnerable (young with developing immune and nervous systems. Even if they do not think there is anything wrong with cremation, do they want to take a chance with their children to find out later that there is health risks involved?
2. DO: Get the facts straight. The worse thing anyone can do is get into a debate contest without having the proper data. The facts are there, and they are not that difficult to understand. Get them organized and make certain everyone in your group is on point. Leave the public comment to those who choose to take on that role, but make sure those people REALLY know what to say when asked. Otherwise, there are key data points everyone should understand and try to make sure you have everyone agreed on what goes out there. If there is even one person making statements that are incomplete, incorrect, inflammatory, derogatory, or overly emotional, the other side will seize on that and use it against you.
3. DO: Make a LOT of noise, (controlled noise that is) and keep a steady pressure on that message once you have everyone on point.
4. DO: Implement a “shotgun” campaign – meaning EVERYBODY at ONE TIME and ongoing – where you will get the message out and in a massive effort. Write a letter to Officials and mail it to EVERYONE and ANYONE who is in a government official role. This letter will simultaneously be released to the press and made available to the public online. Copy EVERYONE on the list, to let EVERYONE on the list know that EVERYONE ELSE on the list is in receipt of the same letter.
5. DO: Create an ATMOSPHERE of POTENTIAL to WIN. You have to be able to believe, and inspire others to believe, that this can be WON. If not, nobody will follow you onto the battlefield – they will all hunker down in their foxholes and hope the enemy doesn’t come across them. Your group must work hard, sacrifice time and energy, and know it won’t be easy, but they must have hope that it can be done. Not only that – but you can succeed.
6. DON’T: Attack your funeral director. He is not the enemy. The enemy is not crematories, either. You are ONLY against the operation of a crematory at THIS location. Make that your issue – not the person, and not the industry.
7. DON’T: Take any of their tactics or rebuttals personally. The thing people do when they have a weak case is attack their opponent. When you see them do that, know that it means you are winning because they cannot debate you on the facts. They may think you are their opponent, but you are NOT. Their opposition is the community – the community that DOES NOT want a crematory at THIS location. Make it clear everyone would be fine with a crematory in a less populated area away from homes & children.
8. DON’T: Get discouraged & give them more credit or power than they actually have. Your thoughts, words, and actions have tremendous power. You can defeat this, and you will. But not if you let what they want you to believe about them stand as part of your belief system. They are NOT all-powerful, and the buck does not stop with them. They do have money & influence, but they do not own the state.
9. DON’T: Spend or promise any money to anybody (including lawyers) above what your group can collectively fund-raise and spend what you do fund-raise wisely. This is not a fight you can win with money, and if you try to fight it with money they have exponentially more ammunition than you – and bigger guns. You will win this battle on two fronts: Public Opinion, and Legal Recourse. You better focus all your attention there, and apply equal efforts to both because you will need both to succeed.
10. DON’T: Engage in any public online forum discussion threads. Make sure all your community members are on the same page when it comes to data and at this point it is useless to share your best information in the public forum. Get organized first.
· Who to Contact
Officials at every level of City, County, State, and Federal Government.
Mayor, City Council, Planning Dept., Zoning Board, Police & Sheriff’s Investigative Dept., City Attorney
County Commissioners & Planning Dept., Mayor of County seat and Staff, County District Attorney
State Representatives and State Senators (ALL of them, but with special attention to your District’s Representatives and Senators, they will be the ones to hopefully care about what is happening) Steve Henson is already in the loop on this issue, but you should send your letter to him anyway.
Governor, Lt Governor, and staff.
Secretary of State and licensing board for funeral industry in your state. (Funeral Board is in Macon, they handle licensing for crematories.)
State Bureau of Investigations, and Federal Bureau of Investigations in your state or region.
Office of Administrative Law for your state. This is the branch that handles mishaps with gov entities such as licensing.
Health Department Officials for all levels (city, county, state)
Environmental Protection Agency for your State, and the EPA office for your region. (DNR for GA)
School Board for your county, and the PTA at the schools in your community.
Churches and other community organizations in your community.
ALL Media outlets ALL Media – TV, Newspapers, Radio, Internet, All Networks, (Investigative Reporters is who you want to get.) If you are close to your state line, reach out to media in the neighboring state. MOST IMPORTANT TO GET THE PRESS ON YOUR SIDE!
· & What to Tell Them (Know Your Data Points!)
Your community’s unique set of circumstances (Demographics, population concentration around site, the potential for loss & damage from the crematory to THIS community. Zoning rules and history for the specific location. Options for reasonable resolution: relocate crematory away from residents)
What your knowledge & understanding of the current laws that apply to this situation entails, and what you believe is lacking. Ultimately, the decision will be made on current rules – so you need to know what they are and what you can use to win the legal battle.
Anything you have done to date to try to resolve the situation, and the result of those efforts.
What you want them to do, even if it is simply to be aware of the situation that is occurring (most will not reply, but there is power in letting everyone know that everyone else knows what your group’s message is)
What your plan is and any actions you want the recipients to take. Hold them accountable to respond – even if they don’t, you will be able to say that you requested they do and they did not.
· Clarify Your Message
You are not against crematories, not against the funeral director, but you are legitimately concerned about property values & possible health risks associated with locating on this close to homes & schools.
You are trying to RAISE AWARENESS so that people can make an informed decision whether a crematory is good for the area. Let the facts stand on their own.
You want to shine a light on government officials who are not acting in the best interest of the community. Allow them the opportunity to withdraw their support & still save face. People will respect you and your group for that strategy. Remember, they are not your enemy. They would make the right decision if they understood the facts. Give them the opportunity to accept your position and support the community, but let them know that if they don’t, you will run opposite them in the next election. AND YOU WILL WIN.
Don’t be afraid to use the “L” word. (Lawsuit!) Let them know that, should the wrong decision be made by city council, your community will sue for property damages. You will be providing them with plenty of information to defend their position if they make the right decision, and the funeral director will not stand a chance at suing the city, but if they side with the funeral director your community will have plenty of grounds for a suit – against the city for allowing it to go in against the community’s wishes. Refer to City of Snellville, they should be aware of that situation already!
· How to Handle Your Funeral Director & His Camp
Write an open letter to him and let him know that the community is happy to have him and the important services he provides, but you are against the plan to operate a crematory so close to homes and children. Let him know that you not only oppose it now, but you will continue to oppose it in the future and until he decides to change his plan and locate his crematory away from the homes. Let him know that you believe his position and the position of the industry on toxins is misinformed at best and at worse could amount to blatant disregard for the welfare of the community and that not only will you take your business elsewhere, but you will pursue every avenue of recourse available to you in both the legal forums and the forum of public opinion. Let him know that the tide of public opinion has now turned against him & his supporters and the only way for him to still be welcome in the community is for him to relocate his crematory elsewhere. Publish this letter – send it to him via certified return receipt mail, have someone hand-deliver a copy, and at the same time send it to the media outlets, and publish it online. It would be best if you can organize a protest at the same time – see if you need a permit and if so, get one. More on this later …
· How to Handle Your Public Officials
Don’t treat them as “Guilty by Association” but instead allow them the room to change their minds about the matter based on better information that was not available to them before. You will be surprised at how many withdraw their support of the crematory when given the means to do so and still save face.
· How to Handle the Media (Important!!!)
Press Releases are Gold – but they must equal a story to the outlet, or they won’t cover it. Newspapers want to sell to readers; TV stations are vying for advertisement dollars via ratings. Make sure they know you have a story for them, they will come. This will be important to your group more than you could possibly imagine. The media can be a tremendous weapon for your side. Know how to get their attention, keep it, and parlay that into even more coverage. Just be aware that they can also turn on you and cut you to pieces, or even worse, ignore the story. This is where making sure the entire group is on message will really count. Also, a protest gets their attention and will almost guarantee you will get coverage. Especially if there is a hint of government corruption – they love that stuff
· Open Records (How to Get Them & Why You Need Them)
All government agencies have open records requests laws they must comply with. You can find out everything that they have on file if you know what to ask for and where to look. Sometimes you need to fill out a form and pay a nominal copy fee, but I have been able to get a lot of them for free. Put in requests for copies of any and all documents filed during the permit process, any previous business and current business license, (He will be required to have a tax occupancy business license for the city, a state corporate license, a funeral establishment license, an embalmer and funeral director on staff who is licensed – get it all.) Also pull property tax records for ALL property owned by him, by his employees, and by his business entities (he will have more than one, guaranteed) By this I definitely do mean you should pull records on his personal property where he lives. Chances are good that he lives nowhere near his funeral home. Find out who he has made campaign contributions to, and how much he gave – go as far back in these records as you can go. You will find clues to his political connections and influences. Get as much information as you can on him personally and anyone who is closely associated with him. He will have most likely been very active in the community and will have donated large amounts to charities, so don’t just look at the contributions he gave directly to any campaign, but look for large donations by him or one of his associates to a charity that is connected to the politicians – they hide their unethical activities in plain sight, by appearing to be “upstanding citizens of exceptional moral character” but it is usually a facade, and you will find where the contribution to “charity” often has underlying implications – look for the money trail. It is there.
· Legal Issues VS Public Opinion
In any legal forum, you will win based on your presentation and the strength of your argument. In each forum, different rules, laws and precedence will apply. Know those rules inside and out. Not only do you need to prepare your argument, but you have to contain within your argument the rebuttal to their argument. The one who wins in these situations is not just the one who presents their points succinctly & effectively, but the one who also anticipates his opponent’s strategies and arguments and has a self-contained rebuttal to that argument, even if he doesn’t make it. Not only do you have to be really good with the facts you almost need to have ESP. Believe it or not, it can be done. We know already what their talking points are – they haven’t changed. In the four years I have been doing this, they have not changed even one element of their argument. Your legal argument is simple, and you need to lead and conclude with that. It is a constitutional right your property owners have to “enjoy and profit” from your property, whether it is your residence or a business property. No property owner has the right to make your land less valuable or hinder your constitutional right to enjoy it. This is an INCOMPATIBLE LAND USE and you are not willing to wait for the industry and regulations to catch up with science, you don’t want it because it will be a nuisance – plain and simple.
The court of public opinion is very powerful, and that is where your arguments about toxins, property values, and cultural issues, philosophical and religious conflicts will matter. Here the community can rally behind you – they can shout it to the hilltops for everyone to hear: “we don’t want new and completely avoidable source of toxins in our community to poison our air and our children’s lungs.” Here is where your emotional pleas can be heard & taken seriously. Here you may argue the toxins, the property values, the “ick” factor, cultural and religious conflicts. Just be sure everyone knows what the message is – “We are concerned that to have a crematory so close to homes & children is too risky to our health and will make people want to move away – the loss of revenue for the city is inevitable.” You are standing up for your children, standing up for your property values in a time of economic distress. The tax revenue lost from the property value loss and the cost to the community health (real or perceived) is just unacceptable, and you won’t back down until it is resolved. Make it clear what your solution would be – put the crematory a minimum of one half mile to a mile from the residential center. No compromises – that is what you want. If that means he has to purchase land and build, so be it. Otherwise you will collectively sue for damages, and you will hold all responsible parties accountable.
Throw Your Hat in the Ring
Someone within your group needs to be prepared & willing to run against some of these officials in the next election cycle. You will have a tremendous platform to campaign on and a massive public support when you are at that point – you will be the one standing up for the community against a system of corrupt or ill-equipped officials. Tell your officials at every level when you speak to them, if they do not support this community they can and will be replaced. You will be surprised at how powerful that kind of message is to them, and how they will often try to help you if they are open at all to the truth. If nothing else, you are letting them know they will have to fight for their own political lives if they do nothing or worse, continue to support this crematory at the expense of the community. Your group will rally behind you even more if they know they have a banner to carry – give them one. You, or someone in your group, need to be willing to do this – and you might be surprised that you will end up having a lot more power than you currently think is available to you – all because you are willing to step up and claim the role. (The role, by the way, is to serve God in this manner, by fighting for what is right and standing up to the enemy no matter how big & strong he may appear.) Think about the story of David & Goliath if you need inspiration.