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Rock County Board OKs medical examiner

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Ted Sullivan
January 28, 2011
— A hired medical examiner will replace the elected coroner in Rock County in 2015.

The Rock County Board unanimously approved the change Thursday night without discussion.


"It was kind of overwhelming that the people felt that it was time to move in this direction," Chairman Russ Podzilni after the meeting said of a November advisory referendum that passed 25,441 to 19,775.


The public safety and justice committee and staff committee recently unanimously recommended the change.


County Administrator Craig Knutson told WCLO radio that board members have to create a job description and qualifications for the medical examiner. He said the board would then recruit candidates and hire someone.


The medical examiner could be a doctor, a paramedic or a registered nurse, Knutson said. The person would likely have some medical and investigative background.


"We've got plenty of time," Podzilni said. "We're going to take a good, hard look at it."


Podzilni said the medical examiner would be a department head reporting to the county administrator. He said he expects the medical examiner's pay to be similar to the coroner, which is about $58,000 a year.


Coroner Jenifer Keach has recommended that Rock County join Dane County to jointly provide medical-examiner services. Dane County's medical examiner is a forensic pathologist. Other counties in Wisconsin also share medical-examiner services.


Knutson said Rock County officials have not spoken with people in other counties about partnerships.


"We could perhaps have discussions with them to decide whether that would make sense," Knutson said.


Rock County also could possibly retain its current coroner's office employees, although that won't be decided until the new system is designed, Knutson said.


Residents voted in November to replace the elected coroner with a medical examiner in January 2015.


Keach was re-elected in November to a four-year term. She will serve as coroner until January 2015.


Board members have been debating the coroner or medical examiner issue for years.


They voted in 2005 to change the position from a coroner to a medical examiner after former Coroner Karen Gilbertson was arrested for stealing prescription drugs from death scenes.


In March 2009, the board changed its mind and voted to keep an elected coroner before the medical examiner change ever took place.


More than a year later—after complaints were filed against Keach—board members considered a medical examiner again. The board chose in May to have voters decide the issue in the referendum.


After the referendum passed, the county investigated more complaints against Keach and Chief Deputy Coroner Louis Smit. The complaints alleged misconduct in public office, a hostile work environment and a violation of county policies.


Keach and Smit denied wrongdoing.


—Gina Duwe contributed to this story.

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