Eliminating coroner deserves much closer examination

YOURCOUNTY
Jim Baumgart  Sheboygan County Supervisor

What voters of Sheboygan or any county think is always important. An informed electorate is the key to a good democracy.

As a Sheboygan County Supervisor, I get concerned and nervous when the voting rights of its citizens might be taken away without a long and deliberate discussion.

That certainly may be the case with the recent proposed Ordinance No. 14, which would abolish the position of Sheboygan County Coroner and replace it with a Medical Examiner position - whose duties, hours and wages have not yet been fully or clearly defined.

Ordinance No.14 seems to be on a “fast track” or at least moving “under the radar”. Without some major discussion by its citizens, voters should think long and hard before giving up their right to select a position created by the Wisconsin Constitution - county coroner.

There are many questions that should be asked before any such change takes place - the voters deserve a discussion and answers to important questions..

Might this be another consolidation of power by the County Administrator, who will able to hire and fire a Medical Examiner (with Sheboygan County Board approval)?

Have there been problems finding outstanding qualified candidates to run for this office in Sheboygan County for this position in the past?

What guarantee do the citizens have that this change is just meant to save money and less about protecting our loved ones when it comes to questions of the cause of death?

Might it be important that the loss of power of an independent County Coroner vs. a Medical Examiner who will serve at the wishes of the County Administer and the County Board could become a problem?

There any number of other questions that should be asked.

It is true the legislature now allows counties to change from an elected County Coroner to a Medical Examiner position.

With an active movement to remove this elected position by members of the Sheboygan County Board, we all should pause and take a deep breath, to be sure we understand why the state of Wisconsin provided a corner’s position within its Constitution in the first place and what are the duties, powers and protections that will be lost if we change?

What or how might the change affect law enforcement, medical community (hospitals, nursing homes, doctors, and others) or families who lose a loved one?

Should we not have an opportunity to have a true and open dialog on why we should change?

It is just not good enough just to say the job has become more technical so we should move to a Medical Examiner.

We have elected doctors to that position in the past. We also have highly skilled nurses, nurse practitioners and others who would be well qualified to serve in that position if elected.

They understand technology. And, most counties still continue to elect their coroner without major issues.

Most importantly, it allows voters to decide directly.

Since the beginning of statehood, Wisconsin understood that providing a legal review of the death of its citizens was wise. If there are people trying to change the Sheboygan County Coroner position to a Medical Examiner, we should clearly understand both the benefits or shortcomings.

As a reader and voter, you have every right to be fully informed about the issue - if not, why not? After all, it’s your county.

To help in reviewing the issue, there is a good technical publication about the history, duties and responsibilities of the office of Coroner, along with the responsibilities of a Medical Examiner written by the nonpartisan Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau.

To try to better inform the public, this column will over the next few weeks begin to explain the duties and responsibilities of both systems.

After all, you should not be left out of the process.


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