EDITORIAL: Fresno County coroner should be appointed

FresnoDecember 2, 2013 

Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims

SPECIAL TO THE FRESNO BEE

The Fresno County Board of Supervisors is serving the public's interest by taking a hard look at the elected coroner-public administrator's position with changes in mind for 2015.

Unimaginable as it is, candidates for the job aren't required to have even the most basic of medical qualifications. They only have to be registered to vote in the county.

This creates a scenario in which a coroner with no background in medicine can overrule the findings of a forensic pathologist in determining cause of death. Unfortunately, the best overhaul of the position — switching to a medical examiner-coroner appointed by the Board of Supervisors — isn't on today's agenda.

Supervisors instead will choose between keeping the current system or assigning the coroner's duties to the sheriff and the public administrator's duties to the district attorney.

The rationale cited by supervisors favoring a sheriff-coroner is that the county will save money and the public will receive better service. An analysis by County Administrative Officer John Navarrette, however, pegs potential savings at just $50,105 in the first year.

Interestingly, Navarrette's report states: "The Coroner has yet to make the facility a Forensic Regional Center; the Sheriff has the desire and the resources to make that facility into the regional center for which it was designed."

The county does have a state-of-the-art coroner's facility adjacent to the Juvenile Justice Campus. In fact, the quality of the building's design and the technology inside is among the reasons why the county should appoint a medical examiner instead of reverting to the sheriff-coroner system that was in place until 1978. That facility will attract a top-flight medical examiner — something that isn't likely to happen if the medical examiner has to report to a publicly elected sheriff.

In addition, Sheriff Margaret Mims has plenty on her plate in maintaining public safety and running the jail — both difficult tasks. She also is highly involved in implementing Assembly Bill AB 109, the realignment of the state's prison system in which more persons convicted of crimes serve time locally. And she is seeking $80 million in state funding to replace the 66-year-old south annex jail — a bid we endorse.

The Fresno County Grand Jury last month completed its investigation of the coroner's position and concluded: "Ultimately, we feel that Fresno County should adopt the appointed Medical Examiner-Coroner model in place in the Counties of Los Angeles, San Diego, Ventura and San Francisco. This is the most professional way to structure the coroner's office function. Fresno County has achieved a size (and) stature, and has the facilities to attract and support a full-fledged Medical Examiner in the near future."

We concur with the grand jury.

 

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