County exec on the hot seat in morgue scandal

February 29, 2012 9:26:44 PM PST
The Cook County Board Thursday will hear the "state of the morgue." This comes six weeks after the I-Team revealed disturbing photos of bodies piled up on floors.

In this Intelligence Report: An exclusive interview with the county executive who oversees the medical examiner's office and will testify at the meeting.

In this Intelligence Report: An exclusive interview with the county executive who oversees the medical examiner's office and will testify at the meeting.

At Thursday morning's Cook County Board meeting, the county's chief administrative officer, Robin Kelly, admits she will be on the hot seat, grilled by commissioners who want to know whether management problems at the morgue -- and the backlog of bodies -- have both been cleaned up.

Kelly oversees the morgue and the medical examiner reports directly to her. The board meeting isn't until Thursday, but the I-Team has already learned what she will tell commissioners, answering the question, "Is it better than it was a month ago?"

"Yeah, definitely," Kelly said. "There are definite improvements. We used this actually as an opportunity to look at what's been done, what needs to be different and how we can improve it and what we need to improve it."

Chief administrative officer Kelly said the morgue has been cleaned up since the release of disturbing photos first shown by the I-Team last month. And, she said, Cook County's embattled medical examiner, Dr. Nancy Jones, is still on the job but that it will be up to the county board to determine if she will remain there.

The I-Team has learned that Dr. Jones this week has privately and individually met with all 17 county commissioners to answer their questions. Jones has still not publicly discussed allegations of mismanagement.

"I hope we can get past the issue so we can get back to, really, the work of operating the bureau," said Kelly. "Hopefully we're going to get it to the point where the medical examiner hums."

Not the case with 52-year-old Brian Warren, who went missing in late December after attending Bible study. Warren's 11 brothers and sisters searched for him, only to learn two weeks later that he had been at the morgue the entire time.

"The statutes go back to the 1930s. That was the last time any amendment was made," said Jeffrey Tobolski, (D) Cook County commissioner.

Tobolski said what happened to the Warrens should not have happened. Tobolski said he expects new legislation to pass Thursday that would put a family notification procedure in place, would limit the time a body can stay at the morgue to 60 days, and would require accountability from the medical examiner.

"She will report to the board of commissioners on a quarterly basis as to the status of bodies at the morgue," said Tobolski. "How many we have we received? How many have we buried? Why we are holding on to them beyond that 60 days?"

Also expected to pass Thursday is an ordinance that would make the medical examiner employed on a five-year contract, versus the open-ended arrangement that now exists, and permit the medical examiner to be fired for cause, something that is nearly impossible now.

Updated ordinance that would regulate the Cook County Medical Examiner position