County Continues To Move Toward Abolishing CoronerIssue Date: February 28, 2018
Marinette County Board appears to be on a fast track toward eliminating the elected position of County Coroner in favor of hiring a Medical Examiner as a county employee, as recommended by County Administrator John LeFebvre at the County Board meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 27. There was no support shown for contracting with a firm or another county to provide Medical Examiner services.
Whether elected or hired, the position does not require a medical degree, but a major argument LeFebvre presented in favor of the appointed medical examiner system is that County Board will have oversight, and with a hired person they can set requirements for training that would not be the case with someone elected to the post.
During an extended discussion of the options at the County Board meeting on Tuesday, several supervisors appeared opposed to the change from elected to hired until they were assured by LeFebvre that he would welcome the application if George Smith, the popular current elected county coroner, if he would choose to apply. Many of those present, including Sheriff Jerry Sauve, praised Smith for the job has done in his many years as coroner, particularly his care and concern in serving bereaved families and working with the local funeral directors.
"It's clear that we have a real professional right now and if he chooses to apply, we'd love to have him," LeFebvre said of Smith.
Supervisor Mike Behnke said he had been contacted by several funeral directors who asked to be involved in the discussions.
There was much concern about continuing to keep prices low for death certificates, burial and cremation permits that need to be paid by bereaved families. Predictions were that the permit fees would double if they joined the Door, Oconto and Brown County group.
There was also much concern about keeping the position local because prompt response of the coroner or a deputy coroner is a major comfort for families who must deal with the loss of a loved one. The body cannot be moved until the coroner has been there, so funeral directors must also wait.
"It's very traumatic for a family to wait for the medical examiner," declared Supervisor Ginger Deschane, who explained she has worked for many years with Hospice. "With George, we just had to call and he was there!"
"Ginger's comments were right on," declared Sheriff Sauve. He said whenever there is a suspicious death a deputy is sent directly to the scene. However, he said, "Working with the funeral directors, maintaining local control and ensuring prompt responses and prompt issuance of death certificates are essential."
Supervisor Ken Keller suggested going with a medical examiner could be beneficial for residents in the far parts of the county because they could appoint deputies who live nearby.
The current coroner post is a half time position in Marinette County with a $30,000 a year salary and no benefits.
LeFebvre said he would expect the Medical Examiner to also be a part time position, and if they need to make it full time to get someone to fill it, "we would certainly find other things for him to do." Smith had reported that he and his deputies were called to investigate 400 deaths this year.
LeFebvre said the full coroner's budget this year is $120,000, and all fees for death certificates, etc. are paid to the county to offset costs of the position.
The coroner versus medical examiner issue will come up at Law Enforcement and Personnel committee meetings in March, and and then is expected back on the agenda for action at the March 27 County Board meeting.
If the coroner remains an elected position it will be filled at the elections in November of this year. If there is to be a change it must be done before the first day for circulating nomination papers for the fall elections, which is Sunday, April 15.
Salaries for elected official posts to be filled in November were approved as recommended by the Personnel Committee. The new pay, starting when the new four year terms begin on Jan,Jan. 1. are Clerk of Courts, $62,220 increasing in steps each year to $67,000 in 2022; Coroner, starting at $31,250 and reaching $33,600 in 2022, and Sheriff, starting at $92,000 and going up by percentages until it reaches $99,000 in 2022.
Continuation of the county's self insured Worker's Compensation program was unanimously approved. Sheriff Jerry Sauve gave his annual report, which included his proud announcement that there were only two traffic fatalities in the county in 2017 and neither of them were alcohol related. Sauve felt his department's enforcement of drunk driving laws contributed to that record, along with factors including that vehicles today are built safer than they used to be.
Also at Tuesday's meeting, by a 20 to 8 margin the board approved a resolution that allows ATVs and UTVS to travel on selected segments of some county highways during daylight hours from May 1 through December 1 each year. Passage of the resolution was recommended by the Highway Committee, with input from Highway Department personnel. Some months ago the board rejected an ordinance that would have allowed ATV traffic on all county roads. That proposed ordinance had drawn strong objections from the law enforcement community and from a number of town boards.
"Nothing has shown that ATVs are safe on county roads," Gilbert Engel objected when the discussion started. "We all know how much ATV traffic is bar to bar... We do not have enough enforcement people to enforce this. If we give permission and there is a fatality,we will all feel responsible!"
"I have great respect for Sheriff Sauve and for (Highway Commissioner) Rick Rickaby, so I'm torn," commented Al Sauld. Both Rickaby and Sauve had said the limited ATV use on county roads could be allowed. Sauld added that there were only two regular traffic fatalities in the county last year, but there were three ATV fatalities and he believed two of them involved alcohol, so he had decided to vote against the ordinance.
Voting in favor of allowing the selected ATV/UTV use were supervisors Josh Anderson, Joe Banaszak, Glenn Broderick, Penny Chaikowski, Tricia Grebin, Robert Holley, Shirley Kaufman, Ken Keller, Tom Mailand, Fred Meintz, Don Phillips, Joe Policello, Ted Sauve, Vilas Schroeder, Bill Stankevich, Clancy Whiting, Cheryl Wruk, David Zahn and Board Chair Mark Anderson. Votes against were cast by supervisors Paul Gustafson, Gilbert Engel, Tom Mandli, George Kloppenburg, Ginger Deschane, Mike Behnke, Al Sauld and Don Pazynski. Supervisor Al Mans was absent and excused, and the seat formerly held by the late Russ Bauer remains vacant.
The approved road segments named in the new ordinance can be closed to the recreational vehicles without notice by action of either the Sheriff's Department or the Highway Department. Maps showing the routes are to be kept on file in the Sheriff's Department at the Law Enforcement Center in Marinette and the Highway Shop in Peshtigo and likely will be eventually posted on line.
In another split vote the board took another step toward implementing the new committee system that will take effect at the reorganization meeting in April. By 26 to six votes the board adopted changes to Chapter 2 of county ordinances, which governs County Board. Opposed were supervisors Engel, Kloppenburg, Broderick, Pazynski, Whiting and Kaufman.
Chair Anderson said more changes will be needed, and they will be addressed at an Executive committee meeting at 10 a.m. Tuesday, March 13. He urged the entire County Board to attend. He asked all supervisors to read Chapter 2, and if they see need for any other changes they should contact him, LeFebvre or Corporation Counsel Gale Mattison prior to the March 13 meeting. That meeting also is to include personnel evaluations.
During time for public comment at the start of the meeting, Oconto Falls resident Dave Behrend spoke on a problem related to the battle Marinette County fought and lost against state placement of sex offenders in a rural Town of Pound residence purchased for that purpose by non-resident investors.
Behrend said these same types of investors, mainly from Milwaukee and Madison, purchase homes in rural residential areas and rent them to the state to use as halfway houses for individuals who may or may not be bad people. He spoke of less serious sex offenders being placed in some on supervised release, and described the homes as in fact commercial business ventures that are allowed in residential areas contrary to local laws, and without input from local officials or neighboring residents.
Behrend said these investors more and more recently are focusing on properties in northern Wisconsin. Properties here are cheap, and buying these homes is a fast buck for them because they get paid by the state, Behrend said.
He invited everyone to attend a public meeting at the Town of Morgan Town Hall at 3276 County Road C, Oconto Falls at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 12. He said Rep. Jeff Mursau of Crivitz and Alfred Johnson, head of the state Department of Health have both promised to be there.
Behrend's handout said this is to be "a meeting of open dialog of citizens from the northern counties of Wisconsin, assembled as one voice to discuss how the state of Wisconsin places assisted living residents and released offenders in their neighboring areas without notice."
Behrend had issued the same invitation to people at the Oconto County Board meeting on Thursday, Feb. 22.
Chuck Druckrey of the county's Land Information Office gave a slide show presentation on the fish viewing platform that will be built just below the BPM, Inc. dam in Peshtigo. He expects construction to start late this summer, using the old piers at the BPM, Inc.
Druckrey said he started working on the fish view platform when former Peshtigo Mayor Al Krizenesky came up with the idea about four years ago, and has continued working on it, particularly in helping write grant applications. He has been working most recently with County Supervisor Dave Zahn, who is Parks and Recreation Director for the City of Peshtigo.
Without dissent the board approved appointment of Colleen Risner as a member of the Elderly Services Board representing Coleman, Pound and Beaver; Mary Holley as an at-large member on the County Consolidated Library Board and the County Library Planning Committee; Amy Shaffer for another term as a real estate agent employed within the county on the Land Information Council, and Town of Peshtigo Fire Chief Mike Folgert as a citizen-at-large for unlimited terms on the County's Chapter 5 Grievance Committee.
They also approved seating of Supervisor Robert Holley on the Personnel and Veterans Service Committee and Board Chair Mark Anderson to the Highway and Transportation Committee to fill the vacancies created by the passing of Supervisor Russ Bauer. Because of the proximity of the spring elections Anderson had opted not to appoint anyone to fill Bauer's Supervisory seat.
It was too late to be on the agenda, but LeFebvre reported that Laurene DeWitt Davidson has resigned from the NWTC Board of Directors, on which she has served for many, many years. That will be a vacancy to fill next month.
Holley questioned why the county was giving someone a $10,000 bonus. Mattison said the county is not. LeFebvre suggested the people who questioned Holley might have been talking about the $10,000 bonus that the Marinette County Association for Business and Industry had approved for its retiring Executive Director Ann Hartnell. "MCABI is not Marinette County," he said. The county funds them at $2 per capita but they also have funds from their MCOE building and business sponsors.
Also, the person hired to replace Hartnell with MCABI has resigned, and Hartnell is continuing on until they fill her position. LeFebvre said the person offered the city of Marinette position as marketing and tourism director did not accept and they have now offered it to another individual. In the meantime, between the Forestry and Parks Department and his office staff, with cooperation from Crivitz Recreation Association, ads are being published and the county is being represented at travel shows.
After some discussion the board approved several vehicle and equipment purchases as recommended by the Highway and Parks and Forestry Committees.
The Land Information Office was authorized to submit an application for an aquatic invasive species grant for Dolan Lake.
After some discussion, and with opposition votes from Holley and Polzin, the board authorized the Parks and Forestry Department to apply for a land Acquisition Grant to buy a property in the Town of Amberg.
The County already owns a phenomenal amount of land," Holley declared. He said the owners are paying $847 in property taxes each year for the 40-acre parcel, and once put into County Forest it will bring in perhaps 40 cents an acre.
Forest and Parks Administrator Pete Villas explained the 40-acre parcel is surrounded completely by County Forest so the purchase fits into the county's plan. "We never seek property, but if someone offers and it fits into our plan, we consider it," Villas said. To other questions he said the cost is $83,000, and it is fully forested with some conifers and some hardwoods. They have in writing from the Town of Amberg that they have no objections to having the county buy the property and opening it to the general public.
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