Rock County voters like medical examiner plan
Question: Should the County of Rock exercise its authority under Article VI, Section 4 (2) of the Wisconsin Constitution to replace the existing elected Office of Coroner with a County appointed medical examiner system, effective January 2015?
JANESVILLE Rock County residents want an appointed medical examiner.
Voters sent that message to the county board on Tuesday in an advisory referendum asking whether they wanted to keep an elected coroner or switch to an appointed medical examiner.
Board members, however, don't have to follow the referendum's outcome because it was not binding. Any change wouldn't be effective until 2014 because Coroner Jenifer Keach was elected Tuesday to a four-year term.
The coroner vs. medical examiner issue has been divisive.
Proponents of keeping a coroner say residents have a right to vote for who is in charge and can be trusted to elect a qualified person.
People favoring a medical examiner, however, say anyone could be elected coroner without qualifications. They say an appointed position guarantees a qualified person is hired.
Coroner proponents say the coroner is an independent investigator. They say a medical examiner could be influenced to rule causes of death a certain way.
People favoring a medical examiner, though, say the coroner's independence is the problem. They say county officials can't hold a coroner accountable or discipline the office.
Proponents of a coroner's office say the system has always worked, but opponents say coroners don't set policy like legislators. They say the position would be better if politics were taken out of it.
The cost and size of the medical examiner's office or the requirements of a hired medical examiner have not been set.
Board members have been debating the coroner or medical examiner issue for years. They voted in 2005 to change the position from an elected coroner to an appointed 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—some board members changed their mind again. The board chose in May to have voters decide the issue in the referendum.