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No candidates step up for coroner position, county may appoint medical examiner

When the filing period for elective positions came to a close in the county last week, there was one post that remained wide open — coroner. Recently retired Dr. Ricard Puumala, who has retained the elective position since 1970, earlier announced that he would not run for another term. That, and the failure of any prospective candidates to step up to the plate, could leave a gaping hole as of Jan. 1, 2015, unless alternative plans are made.

0 Talk about it

“Before the filing period, I sent letters to the clinics in both Moose Lake and Cloquet, letting them know of the pending vacancy,” said County Auditor/Treasurer Paul Gassert, “but there was no interest.”

In addressing the regular session of the Carlton County Board on Tuesday, Gassert suggested that the county might want to consider transitioning the coroner post from an elective to an appointive position.

“The sheriff’s office has been working toward the possibility of a medical examiner,” said Gassert, explaining that such a post would be appointed by the county and suggested that it would likely bear a slightly different job description as well.

Sheriff Kelly Lake, who was not in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting, later explained that while there are many similarities between the office of coroner and the position of medical examiner, the major difference is that one is elected and one is appointed. Other than that, she added, a medical examiner has certain statutory guidelines he or she must fulfill which vary from state to state. Basically, she said, a coroner serves as a medical director while a medical examiner is often required to be certified in forensic pathology as well.

“A lot more training is required,” affirmed Lake. “In talking with various medical examiners, I’ve found that there aren’t yet a lot of them around the country.”

Lake said St. Louis County currently has a medical examiner who has a permanent office and works full time. While she said that isn’t the vision that Carlton County would likely adapt, she said counties such as Lake County contract with the St. Louis County Medical Examiner to conduct autopsies and conduct any in-office procedures and then utilize trained medical investigators who are trained in death investigations to report to the scene of the death, along with law enforcement. She said Pine County has specially trained sheriff’s deputies who serve as medical investigators at the scene, but other counties use private contractors.

“We don’t have all the answers at this point,” admitted Lake. “It’s still an act in progress, depending on which direction the Board decides to go.”

Gassert said he will have more information at the next meeting of the Board, in hopes that a decision will be forthcoming before the end of the month, since the county is required to declare its intent to transition to an appointed position no later than six months prior to the expiration of the current elected post.

In other business to come before the Board on Tuesday, commissioners voted to set a public meeting to consider a proposed assembly ordinance that would require a permit for any assembly with greater than 250 people expected to be in attendance for the sake of making sure such events are properly patrolled. Carlton County Planning and Environmental Services Director Heather Cunningham suggested that the cost of such a permit be in the range of $500.

“These events place a burden on the public for things such as extra patrol, signage and traffic control,” said Cunningham in justifying the expense of the proposed permits.

“We need to be aware of these events so the sheriff can schedule staff accordingly,” said Gassert, adding that the only large events currently requiring licensing in the county are fireworks and those serving alcohol.

Cities in the county, as well as Thomson Township (both of which have their own zoning ordinances) would be exempt, as would events such as weddings and family reunions held on private property. Any or all of the requirements of the permit could be waived on a case-by-case basis if the Board deems it warranted.

A public meeting date was set for 8:30 a.m. July 8 at the Carlton County Transportation Building.

Commissioners approved the sale of 47 tracts of public land totaling approximately 1,400 acres that will be offered through public auction at a date yet to be determined next fall. Land Commissioner Greg Bernu said most are 40- or 80-acre sites plus some non-traditional city lots, and all are classified non-conservation.

Board members unanimously endorsed a plan to open up the application process for county boards, committees and commissions to the public. Economic Development Director Connie Christenson explained that the county will advertise and post for open positions as they become available, and interested parties can fill out applications either online or in person and the applications will go on to the department head and then to the county board for approval.

Finally, commissioners approved a request from County Coordinator Dennis Genereau to expend $10,000 to hire the Keystone Company to update the county’s current job position profiles into a master template. Genereau explained that the purpose is, in part, to help organize the personnel data more succinctly, group them in specific fashions and set up a more effective means of performance management.