Thursday, October 18, 2007

Medical Examiner caught in the crossfire

A raging battle over whether to build a pricey public safety complex at Highways 45 and 50 in Bristol has caught the Kenosha County Medical Examiner, Dr. Mary Mainland, in the crossfire.

Dr. Mainland isn't a politician. She's a forensic pathologist. But her office has outgrown the old Brookside facilities on Washington Road and needs a new home.

The county's idea was to put it in a new public safety complex proposed to be build near the Kenosha County Center building at Highways 45 and 50. The new facility would also house a sheriff's substation and a new communications center to be moved from the Public Safety Building in downtown Kenosha.

The multimillion project has its share of detractors -- myself included -- who ponder not only the cost but the wisdom of moving the dispatch center from downtown.

You'll recall that the whole concept behind the Public Safety Building was to consolidate facilities and have support services working alongside the Kenosha Police Department and Kenosha County Sheriff's Department. Moving the dispatch center out of downtown frustrates the very reason why the Public Safety Building was built. It's an utterly stupid and indefensible idea which should never see the light of day.

That said, it doesn't mean that the sheriff doesn't need a western county substation nor should it deprive the medical examiner of much needed space and facilities.

In the case of the sheriff's department, there already is unused space in the Kenosha County Center. However, no elevator was ever installed when the building was built, another utterly stupid and indefensible move which means the facility isn't completely usable. It shouldn't cost all that much to put in an elevator and do some remodeling.

A better idea, however, would be to cut a deal with the Village of Twin Lakes which has a new police station in a building that was designed for ready expansion. Working with Twin Lakes to expand that facility for joint use is a smart idea that's long overdue.

The Twin Lakes facility has its own dispatch facility already staffed around the clock so there would be someone available to greet the public 24/7. Plus, that building truly is in the western part of the county which can't be said for the Kenosha County Center. And it would probably cost a lot less to negotiate with the village to add space for the sheriff's west end patrols.

This, of course, doesn't address the needs of the medical examiner.

The medical examiner's office has an acute need not only for more space but a facility that's up to professional standards. Since the medical examiner works closely with prosecutors and the courts, it only makes sense not to move the office to Bristol when the people she and her staff work with are downtown.

But the space issue is only part of the story because apparently there are some malcontents on the county board who are floating another incredibly stupid and utterly indefensible idea: eliminate the medical examiner, period. Their fuzzy logic is that if you cut out the medical examiner, there won't be any need for new facilities and thus the county saves money.


Kenosha County switched from an elected coroner to an appointed medical examiner in order to professionalize forensic investigations. This progressive move has worked well for the past two decades and continues to make sense.

If the medical examiner was eliminated, the county would go back to having an elected coroner who may or may not be experienced in death investigations. The coroner would still have to have a staff, just as the medical examiner does, plus there would be a need to hire forensic pathologists elsewhere to perform autopsies, testify in court, consult with law enforcement, etc. How this would benefit the people of Kenosha County is completely befuddling. Only a moron suffering from terminal rectal-cranial inversion or an incurable political sleazeball could find merit in this.

It's unfortunate and downright wrong that the medical examiner -- who's supposed to be a professional removed from politics -- is caught in this crossfire. The county board needs to hear this message loud, clear and immediately.

Yes, reasonable minds can disagree on how best to provide enhanced law enforcement in western Kenosha County or where the medical examiner's new facility should be located, but nobody in their right mind can argue that going back to a system we eliminated two decades ago is in the best interests of the county. The county board must stop playing politics with the medical examiner's office, period.

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