Many questions still on table about ending coroner elections

Jim Baumgart  Sheboygan County Supervisor

Why does someone want to take your voting right away for selecting your Sheboygan County Coroner?

Since statehood Sheboygan County has elected its county coroner. Now Ordinance No. 14 is being proposed at the Sheboygan County Board to eliminate the elected coroner and change to a medical examiner position that is hired by the County Administrator, reviewed and passed by the Sheboygan County Board. Ordinance No. 14 seems to be on a “fast track”, and “under the radar”; that should always cause some concern.

In last week’s column, I suggested we need to take a step back for a moment, slow down and let the voters understand what is taking place

Is there a need to change? Might this be a consolidation of power by the County Administrator and his office? Have we had problems in that elective process? Will the loss of an independently elected official make for higher costs, more or less concern over the review of a lost loved one and what will be the specific duties of a Sheboygan County Medical Examiner?

Without going into specific details on how the whole process took place, Milwaukee County (population of over 500,000) was the first county that was allowed to change from a county coroner to medical examiner. The position of county coroner changed from a two-year term to a four-year term at the same time the Wisconsin Constitution changed to four-year terms for County Sheriffs.

Back in 1963 the Attorney General gave a legal opinion that counties under a population of 500,000 could also abolish the elective office of coroner and implement a medical examiner system to be effective at the end of an incumbent coroner’s term. Also allowed was for two or more counties to institute a joint medical examiner system.

First, let’s look at the counties surrounding Sheboygan County to see what system they have in place - county coroner or medical examiner? Manitowoc County - elected coroner; Ozaukee County - elected coroner; Washington County - medical examiner; Calumet County - medical examiner. Sheboygan County, of course, has an elected coroner depending on the outcome of Ordinance No. 14 which is presently in the process of moving through the county board’s committee system.

Here are some general provisions listed by the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau about coroners and medical examiners that may be of interest:

1). The office of coroner is a partisan elected office, with the election held during the fall general election. Medical examiner is an appointed position - in Sheboygan County’s case, hired by the County Administrator and approved by the Sheboygan County Board.

2). Resignation by a coroner must be made to the sheriff, who must immediately transmit a notice of resignation to the Governor. That vacancy must be filled by appointment of the Governor.

3). A coroner may be removed from office by the Governor, for just cause (a recall or election are other options) while a medical examiner can be removed by the county board for just cause.

Next week this column will discuss the coroner and medical examiner requirements and their duties. In that discussion you may well find things of interest, such as that the coroner is required, if the sheriff, for any cause, is committed to the jail of that county, to be the keeper of the jail during that period. Or that a coroner is required to serve and perform as coroner in a nearby county when requested under certain situations.

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