Fresno County supervisors on Tuesday voted to explore combining the county coroner-public administrator position with the sheriff, or maybe giving coroner duties to the sheriff and those of the public administrator to the district attorney.
David Hadden, the current coroner-public administrator, said the board would regret making either change.
"In the end, it would probably cost more," Hadden said.
But both Supervisors Debbie Poochigian and Andreas Borgeas spoke of the need to explore the merger, and their colleagues Judy Case and Phil Larson agreed.
"I think there will be a cost savings and that's what I'm looking at," Poochigian said.
Supervisors can only make these changes every four years when the offices are up for election. That comes next year. If a change is to be made, the supervisors must start the process at one of their next two meetings, so it would become official in early January.
If the change is made, Sheriff Margaret Mims would add coroner to her job duties, and Hadden wouldn't be able to seek reelection next year.
Hadden and Dr. Venu Gopal, a forensic pathologist for the Fresno County Coroner's Office, both said the move would take the coroner's office in the wrong direction.
But Poochigian pointed out that 31 counties currently combine the two offices.
Smaller counties are usually the ones that combine the sheriff and coroner, Hadden and Gopal responded. A better option is to create an appointed medical examiner post, which is what many large California counties have.
If the sheriff becomes the coroner, Hadden said, it would be more expensive because an outside coroner agency would have to be hired in any officer-involved shootings to ensure there is no conflict of interest.
Hadden became the county's first elected coroner in 1978 because the sheriff, the late Hal McKinney, convinced supervisors that there was a conflict of interest for him to hold both offices. Hadden went on to serve 24 years before retiring in 2002. But he ran again four years later and won back the spot.
But Fresno County Counsel Kevin Briggs said he did not see a conflict.
While much lower in profile, the public administrator takes care of deceased people's estates where no family member or other designated person exists.
Only Supervisor Henry R. Perea voted against exploring a change.
Perea was unhappy that elected officials including Hadden weren't informed of the agenda item, and after the discussion said he'd not heard any evidence that a change makes sense.
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