MCHENRY COUNTY, IL — McHenry County voters will decide Tuesday whether their coroner should be elected or appointed. The coroner has historically been picked by voters in McHenry County and other counties throughout the Chicago area, including Kane, Lake and DuPage counties.
The exception is Cook County where a medical examiner’s office, with a much loftier budget than smaller counties like McHenry, is appointed. Candidates running for McHenry County Coroner this election say the reason for that is due to the number of death investigations Cook handles.
“They see thousands and thousands more deaths,” said Michael Rein, a Republican from Woodstock, during a candidate forum hosted by the Northwest Herald in September. “McHenry County does around 175 autopsies per year.”
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Both Rein and his opponent in the coroner’s race, Kelly Leibmann, a Libertarian from Wonder Lake, say the county’s coroner should continue to be picked by voters. Currently, the office is run by interim coroner John Miller of the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office. The interim pick for sheriff came after former coroner Anne Majewski stepped down.
McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks and McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally both back the referendum and say hiring a coroner would help to consolidate government and make the office more efficient. The McHenry County Board voted to get the referendum on the ballot in December.
"The coroner's office is plagued by problems caused by many years of mismanagement. However, the only requirements under Illinois law to be elected coroner is that you have to be at least 18 years old and a registered McHenry County voter," Franks, D-Marengo, said in a statement earlier this year. "It's past time to professionalize the office and remove the politics from the vital job of investigating deaths and consoling next of kin."
A part of the push to eliminate the coroner as an elected position came after an evaluation of the office in September 2019 by a third party — Dr. Dennis Kellar, a pulmonologist and sleep medicine specialist.
Liebmann said a move to nix the elected coroner position based on the opinion of a “sleep study doctor who has never been inside a coroner’s office” was not fair. She added that the Illinois Coroner’s Office would’ve come up to evaluate the office for free.
But Kenneally said a sheriff’s office report, completed in August 2019, also showed the coroner’s office had been not put needed security measures in place and mishandled evidence, the Northwest Herald reports.
“When it comes to my position on the coroner’s office, it would be the same irrespective of the sheriff’s report or Dr. Kellar’s report,” Kenneally said. “I just think fundamentally and from a good government standpoint, you just don't need a coroner's office and a lot of times it causes more harm than good."
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Meanwhile, Liebmann believes the move to nix an elected coroner is political. She added that Majewski tried several times to improve the office but her efforts were blocked by Franks.
"I don't think the coroner's office is broken," she said during the September candidate forum. "I do believe it has been purposefully neglected for political reasons."
Rein says he believes there needs to be more collaboration between the sheriff's office, health department and coroner's office - as well as other government offices in McHenry County. He also said there's checks and balances in place for an elected position that prevents possible conflicts of interest since the coroner is currently held accountable by the county board as well as voters.
Currently, an elected coroner is required under state law to take a 40-hour basic training course within six months, as well as 24 hours of continuing education each year.
The full referendum, which appears on the ballots of McHenry County voters, reads: "Shall the Coroner of McHenry County be eliminated as an Elected Office and be replaced by an appointed Coroner, appointed by a McHenry County Board Committee, to be effective November 30, 2020?"