Days of an elected coroner may be numbered

County considering switch to an appointed medical examiner position to give it more control over qualifications but change likely to come with a cost increase
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

A proposal to eliminate Ozaukee County’s elected coroner’s position and replace it with an appointed medical examiner was to be considered Wednesday, April 6, by the County Board.

The Executive Committee on Monday threw its weight behind the proposal, which was previously endorsed by the Public Safety Committee.

The Executive Committee spent little time debating the proposal, which if approved would go into effect on Jan. 2, 2023.

The proposal came to the Public Safety Committee as a way to allow the county to establish qualifications for the position, something that can’t be done for an elected position.

“Neither the coroner nor medical examiner needs to be a physician, however, a strong understanding of disease process, pathology and investigative process is desirable,” according to a memo from the county’s Human Resources Director Chris McDonell.

But the only requirement for a coroner is that the person be at least 18 years old and a county resident, County Administrator Jason Dzwinel said.

“Ozaukee County is very lucky to have individuals like Coroners (John) Holicek and (Tim) Deppisch for many years elected to the office,” he said. 

But Deppisch has indicated he will not seek another term in office, Dzwinel said, so the time is right to consider changing the post to an appointed one.

Going to a medical examiner would not only allow the county to set education and experience requirements, it would also increase the accountability of the office, according to an agenda memo. 

The coroner’s duties include responding to death scenes that meet specific criteria, initiating investigations where appropriate, documenting the circumstances of death, determining the cause and manner of death and the need for additional investigations or an autopsy, officials said.

They also interact with the deceased person’s family, as well as law enforcement officers, attorneys and physicians, interview witnesses and sign death certificates and cremation permits.

Dzwinel said it is expected that the change to a full-time medical examiner would cost the county about $50,000 due to wages and benefits, a number he said is based on the salaries of medical examiners in Sheboygan, Washington and Dodge counties. 

However, he noted that the coroner’s office has a part-time employee, a position not  funded by most other counties.

Officials also noted that if it goes to a medical examiner, the county could explore sharing that position with another county. 

Even if the county were to go to a medical examiner, Dzwinel added, it would still rely on the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s Office to handle autopsies.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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