Effort to reform medical examiner's office delayed

February 15, 2012 (CHICAGO)

A proposal that would allow the medical examiner to be fired follows weeks of news reports about mismanagement at the morgue and overcrowding of bodies.

On an election night in 1955, the well-marinated Alderman Paddy Bauler announced that Chicago "ain't ready for reform." Now, it is the Cook County morgue that isn't ready for reform, as two proposals are stalled that would give the power to hire and fire the county medical examiner to the county president and county board, something that doesn't exist now.

Several county commissioners hope the medical examiner's office will be ready for reform soon.

"The press will be back at the morgue again, and they will be reporting about more inefficiencies there that we failed to address as a board," said Cook County Commissioner Jeff Tobolski.

County commissioners were disappointed Wednesday at the tabling of a proposal that would reform the way the medical examiner is hired and serves.

Commissioner John Fritchey's legislation introduced two weeks ago calls for the M.E. to service a five-year term, appointment by the county president as a non-political position; reappointment by the next county president; removal at the president's request also not for political reasons, and the M.E. could be removed without cause.

Fritchey called Wednesday's procedural maneuver an unfortunate delay.

"For some reason, there is an effort to protect the M.E. office, and all one has to do is look at the morgue and burials and see that that type of protection needs to be stopped right now," said Fritchey.

A different proposal by Commissioner Larry Suffredin would require the M.E. be fired only for cause:

"The five-year term is meaningless, because the person becomes an employee at will," said Suffredin. "Because the president may remove by written request, it doesn't say there has to be a reason, so it may be, 'I don't like the way you part your hair,' it may be the suit you wear, 'I don't like the finding you made in a death investigation,' I don't like how you testified in a case,' These are all serious things for an office as important as the M.E."

Late Wednesday afternoon, Commissioner Fritchey told the I-Team that he is preparing a formal request that Dr. Nancy Jones, the medical examiner, appear in front of the county board to answer questions.

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