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Wadena Board hires new County Coroner/Medical Examiner

Wadena County Commissioners voted to hire Dr. Gregory M. Smith at their Nov. 5 board meeting to serve beginning Jan. 1, 2014, as the new County Coroner and medical examiner.   Dr. Smith replaces Dr. Tim Schmitt who served the county for 42 years.  Dr. Schmitt is retiring as County Coroner on Dec. 31.

Dr. Smith currently serves as Coroner for Otter Tail County and Wilkin County.  He also performs medical examiner services for Grant County and Traverse County.  Dr. Smith works at several hospitals including Tri-County Hospital in Wadena and Lake Region Hospital in Fergus Falls.

Dr. Smith is a graduate of the University of North Dakota Medical School.  He completed transitional and pathology residencies at Sioux Valley Hospital, and a pathology residency at Watson Air Force Hospital.  Dr. Smith served on active duty in the U.S. Air Force for three years.

County Attorney Kyra Ladd will prepare a contract for Dr. Smith’s four-year appointment, which is governed by Minnesota Statute 390.

A committee composed of Ladd, Sheriff Mike Carr, Auditor/Treasurer Judy Taves, and Commissioner Bill Stearns discussed the County Coroner’s role and led the search for a new County Coroner during the last few weeks since they learned of Dr. Schmitt’s upcoming retirement.  

During the Nov. 5 meeting, Sheriff Carr strongly recommended to the board that all Wadena County deputies receive Death Investigation training so that they could function as Death Investigators to assist Dr. Smith in his duties when deputies are called to a death scene.  Death Investigators are paid through the County Coroner’s Office, not through the county.  Sheriff Carr said that just three of his staff are trained as Death Investigators so far.

Ladd supported Carr’s recommendation, saying that issues of worker’s compensation, liability, and other legal matters would be easier to deal with if all deputies were trained as Death Investigators.  She commented, “From a cost perspective, it’s better to have all deputies receive [this] training….   Currently we have [three] Coroner’s Investigators, but it would be valuable to me to have all deputies trained because then they could [all] be considered experts in court cases.”

For the deputies to receive training, a budget line item will have to be created in Sheriff Carr’s departmental budget for 2014.  Ladd indicated that she would pursue the securing of such a line item so that the training could take place.  Dr. Smith indicated that he would assist with the training, if the county desired.

Sheriff Carr also announced the hiring of Jamie Pearson as a full-time Deputy effective immediately, at Grade 54, Step 2.  Pearson has three years’ experience with the Staples Police Department and has served as a school liaison officer.   He scored highest of 8 candidates considered for the vacant deputy position.

Sheriff Carr also announced the hiring of Bruce Uselman as a casual part-time Deputy, Grade 54, Step 1, and as a casual part-time bailiff at Grade 50, Step 1.

Sparks flew during a board discussion of Taves’ formal request to hire an accountant to fill a vacancy in the Auditor/Treasurer’s Office due to a retirement last June.  Taves had delayed the request to fill the vacancy until November to cover other expenses known to be coming in the Auditor/Treasurer’s Office.  Commissioner Rodney Bounds assailed Taves for requesting “a four-year degree accountant, non-union, supervisory, confidential” employee up to Grade 55, Step 3,” rather than simply hiring another non-degreed accounting employee.

Bounds said, “What are they going to be doing?  This is a new position.  I thought when we hired you [accounting] was your strong point. I didn’t realize when we hired you that we would have to bring in more staff.”

Taves replied,  “There are a number of things that the State Auditors brought out…. This has been needed for a long time.  We don’t have anybody for backup.“

Commissioner Jim Hofer said, “We’re not really adding staff….”

Commissioner Dave Hillukka said, “You have to realize, Judy, we’re guarding the henhouse here, we have to answer to our constituents.  You want to bring in somebody at $1.38 per hour higher than the person before….”

Taves replied,  “We’re responsible, frankly, for the financial integrity of the county….”

The difference in annual salary between the two positions was $2,780.  Eventually, after more argument, the commissioners voted to approve Taves’ request to hire the person with the qualifications she identified as needed by the Auditor/Treasurer’s Office:  a four-year degree, supervisory, confidential employee.”

In other business, the board:

  • approved the purchase and installation of new carpet for the commissioners’ board room to be obtained from Dave’s Floor Covering of Sebeka, who supplied the low quote of $1,617.63.  The carpet will be put in after new windows are installed in the board room, as part of the remodeling project that the Courthouse is currently undergoing.

  • approved the annual solid waste market price calculated by the Solid Waste Department as required by the Solid Waste Management Tax regulations.  The market price declared by Wadena County is $79.82 per ton.

  • approved the creation of a Sheriff’s Impound Lot behind the Sheriff’s Storage Building at the County Fairgrounds.

  • approved a Conditional Use Permit for a primitive dwelling structure in Sec. 9 of Bullard Township, as requested by David and Linda Jablonski.

  • appointed Brenda Weniger to a three-year term on the Public Health Advisory Board, effective 1-1-14.

  • voted to request a proposal from Quinlivan & Hughes, P.A., St Cloud, to provide labor attorney services to the county beginning Jan. 1, 2014, due to the retirement of current labor attorney Tom Fitzpatrick.

  • requested Deana Malone, Director of Zoning and Parks, to continue negotiations with the DNR regarding the potential sale of tax-forfeited land in Wadena County.

  • heard a presentation from Mike Wegsheid from NJPA on information technology services available to the county through NJPA.