Cincinnati Jewish cemetery group seeks court’s help to merge
Business Courier of Cincinnati – by Jon Newberry Staff Reporter
Friday, March 21, 2008
Nonprofit fears combination could trigger lawsuits
A nonprofit Jewish cemetery organization formed in 2004 is getting ready to take ownership and management of almost all of Cincinnati’s Jewish burial grounds and has asked a Hamilton County court to help facilitate the merger.
Jewish Cemeteries of Greater Cincinnati Inc. filed a complaint for declaratory judgment in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court earlier this month, naming 16 organizations and Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann as defendants.
The document states that by transferring their organizations’ assets and financial resources, current owners and operators of the 24 cemeteries and their officers and board members could be subjected to lawsuits and possibly held liable for failing to uphold their fiduciary responsibilities.
Jewish Cemeteries “fears that unless such a declaration is made, it and its directors, officers and employees and the directors and officers of all the individual cemeteries face a very real risk that at some time in the future, (someone) will contend that this merger has been in violation of the purposes for which a specific cemetery has been formed,” the complaint states. Without a court declaration, “it will be difficult if not impossible to persuade members of the Jewish community” to serve on its board, it said.
So it wants the court to declare that the planned merger is appropriate.
The petition was filed by Edward Marks, a lawyer with the downtown law firm Hardin. Lazarus, Lewis & Marks LLC, who has been involved in the formation of Jewish Cemeteries and the merger plan.
David Hoguet, recently appointed executive director, said the 24 cemeteries slated to merge into the group are operated by organizations named in the complaint. The boards of those organizations have been meeting to approve the various mergers, and the approvals are not dependent on obtaining the court’s declaration, he said.
“They will be occurring over the next couple months, but the hope is that it will be completed by the middle of the year,” Hoguet said. “The board approvals are going forward parallel with the declaratory judgment.”
The cemeteries have been planning the merger for 10 years, he said. Several factors have been behind the plan: some of the cemeteries are in need of repairs; some don’t have the financial resources to perpetuate themselves indefinitely; and some are independent cemeteries that aren’t affiliated with congregations or have congregations that are no longer active.
Dann was named as a defendant because the state’s attorney general is a kind of legal guardian for nonprofit organizations.
A key to moving the process forward has been financial commitments made by the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati and the Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati, Hoguet said. “The funding puts us in a position where we’re financially viable … if not in perpetuity, close to in perpetuity,” he said.
Jim Friedman, director of gift planning and endowment at the Jewish Federation, said it has committed a minimum of $3 million, and up to $5 million, in future funds raised through an endowment campaign that it’s launching. In addition, the Jewish Foundation has committed $4 million over the next eight years to the cemeteries.
The groups are also helping to organize a separate community campaign to raise $2 million that would be available over the next five years for more immediate needs.
Hoguet and Friedman said they are not aware of any opposition to the plan.
The 24 cemeteries are largely in Price Hill and Western Hills, and aside from one in the city of Hamilton, all of them are in Hamilton County. They include cemeteries in Montgomery, Evanston, Clifton and a small cemetery in the West End that’s the oldest Jewish cemetery west of the Allegheny Mountains, Hoguet said.
A monthly bulletin issued this month by the Ohav Shalom Congregation in Sycamore Township, which controls the Love Brothers Cemetery in Price Hill, said the transfer to Jewish Cemeteries won’t be completed for several months and offered its members a chance to buy plots at current prices.
“We have not raised our rates for many years and you can be certain that the rates will increase after the consolidation,” the bulletin said.
Hoguet said burial fees will be standardized following the mergers but that the prices of plots will likely continue to vary, in part because some locations are more desirable. Most of the cemeteries are on Cincinnati’s West Side, which is where the Jewish community was centered in the 1800s before migrating east.