Voters will decide in November whether to scrap Spokane County’s system for investigating deaths.
The proposal, which comes as Coroner Dexter Amend is mired in controversy, would replace the coroner with a medical examiner appointed by county commissioners.
But the change would not happen until the end of Amend’s term, in January 1999.
Commissioners John Roskelley and Steve Hasson said Tuesday they’ll put the proposal on the Nov. 5 ballot.
Commissioners said they wanted to hold a hearing before putting the issue to a vote. That can’t happen because the deadline for adding to the November ballot is next Tuesday.
Asked why commissioners waited so long to take action, Roskelley said it was an oversight.
Commissioner Phil Harris argued there’s not enough time for voters to learn about the issue. Besides, he said, the November ballot already is too crowded.
“I guess I have a fear we’re just throwing it into a pot with all this other stuff and people aren’t going to be able to analyze the issues,” Harris said.
The coroner system operated without controversy until Amend was elected in November 1994, Harris said.
Amend could not be reached for comment Tuesday night. His assistant said Amend was not in the office and does not grant interviews.
Responding to requests from Spokane County, the state Legislature last year approved a bill giving counties with at least 250,000 residents authority to switch to a medical examiner. Gov. Mike Lowry signed the bill in March during a Spokane ceremony.
Coroners are elected administrators who do not perform autopsies. Candidates are not required to have medical training, although Amend is a retired urologist. Medical examiners are appointed by county commissioners. They are highly trained forensic pathologists.
Experts say county residents will pay far more for a medical examiner, although no one can say exactly how much more.
To attract top candidates, the county undoubtedly would have to offer more than the $49,000 it pays Amend. The medical examiner would need more assistants than Amend and probably would order more autopsies.
Hasson said changing to a medical examiner is a natural evolution in the county’s growth. The added cost is not nearly as much as the potential liability of sticking with a coroner, he said.
Families of the deceased have filed more than $4 million in claims and lawsuits since Amend took office in 1994. Some say he added to their grief by asking whether their deceased relatives were gay, practiced sodomy or masturbated.
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