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Coroner's office faces question marks



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February 04, 2014 | 10:17 AM
ELKHORN — Some question marks surround the Walworth County Coroner’s Office after the man who lead the department for half a century died at the end of 2013.

John Griebel, who was the county coroner for 53 years, died on Dec. 20. Griebel was elected to that position, and his next term would have ended in January 2015.

“John was wonderful and a great value to the county,” County Administrator David Bretl said. “He took care of his office. He knew what he was doing, and he took care of it using a very minimal amount of resources.”

During the Jan. 20 Executive Committee meeting, Thomas Miller, the chief deputy coroner, updated the board on the status of the office.

Miller took charge of the office after Griebel’s death.

“By state statute, I became acting coroner,” Miller said. “I have applied to the governor for appointment.”

Miller said if he is appointed by Gov. Scott Walker, he would need to run for election this November.

Miller said in 2013 the coroner’s office responded to 1,343 calls. In 2012, it responded to about 1,200 calls, he said.

How to pay the coroner?

Bretl said the coroner’s position was considered a part-time job, and Griebel was paid about $44,000 last year. He also leased his own vehicle to respond to calls.

Miller said that the “county was getting one heck of a bargain” when it came to Griebel, especially considering the amount of time and effort he put into the job.

Miller estimated that Griebel worked between 40 and 50 hours a week.

Bretl added that Griebel was the last elected official in the county to be considered a part-time employee. Griebel responded to many of the calls himself, and other employees of the coroner’s office are paid on a per-diem of $120 for each response.

Since Griebel’s death, each deputy’s response has cost the county $120.

On Jan. 23, Miller said the coroner’s office can’t continue to do this because it will “burn” through its entire budget.

During the Jan. 20 meeting, Supervisor Daniel Kilkenny said that if the coroner responded to 1,200 calls a year at the per diem rate, the coroner would earn about $144,000. Miller said the county also would need to consider how to compensate the new coroner for using a personal vehicle. He said he expects that he would put more than 20,000 miles on his vehicle every year to fulfill the job.

“Considering things like that, $44,000 is quite low,” Miller said.

Another option for the board is to create the position of medical examiner, which isn’t elected, Bretl said.

Another challenge for the coroner’s office is that its space is limited.

It’s located in a room at the Walworth County Sheriff’s Office. Griebel and some of his staff members often worked from home.

“The phone normally rang at John’s house, and at the office,” Miller said.

Miller said all of the calls to the coroner’s office are now directed to his cell phone.

The coroner and his deputies also stored monthly records in their homes, and then transferred them to the sheriff’s department.

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