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Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Local Newspapers Continue Negative Campaign Against Coroner's Office

Over the past week, the two largest newspapers in Rock County editorialized their position regarding the county board's decision to referendum whether voters are willing to relinquish their right to elect a coroner and turn over political control of the office to the county board.
Beloit Daily News Editorial Excerpt:
(Titled: Who’s to decide, voters, or board?)
Excuse us, but didn’t the voters elect the supervisors with the expectation that the board would make county government’s housekeeping decisions?
Depends on what your definition of "housekeeping" is. If it means we elect county supervisors or any other office holder to unilaterally act as part of a collective to fundamentally change the form of government - I'd say absolutely not. It's like as if the legislative branch of government decided to abolish the administrative branch simply because of a personal vendetta or God forbid ...politics. But if it means we elected supervisors to make informed decisions on our everyday changing circumstances by interacting with elected officials, local governmental agencies and the general public respectively mutual of the powers granted to those offices by the voters - well, you can count me in. That - I can agree with.
Beloit Daily News Editorial Excerpt:
RETURNING TO THE supervisors’ inability or unwillingness to decide to keep electing a coroner or switch to appointing a medical examiner, it might be useful to recall the case of a former coroner’s theft of prescription drugs from death scenes. In that 2005 episode, the then-coroner admitted misconduct in public office. She was forced from office by the criminal scandal and died not long afterward.
It's not useful and in all actuality - it's irrelevant. The Janesville Gazette also seems to enjoy bringing up the previous coroner's problems in nearly every recent article about the current coroner's office. That's like bringing up the allegations of sexual harassment that eventually engulfed the previous Rock County sheriff every time the paper writes about the office or job performance of the current sheriff. It's not only a totally absurd talking point - it's a deliberately mean spirited juxtaposition meant only to smear the current office holder.

Speaking of the Gazette, their editorial this past Sunday was not much different than the BDN's.

According to the Gazette editors, their opposition to the coroner's office is not about politics (on their behalf) or the current coroner’s job performance. Even though the coroner's office is just one of several partisan elective county offices, that the Gazette claims politics has no bearing on their opposition to it is a good thing - if you can believe them. And it certainly can’t be personal right? That would make the newspaper editors and certain county board members prime candidates for a series of anger management and diversity classes. So, what exactly is their problem?

Well, according to Sundays’ editorial, the Gazette editors now feel its about ineffective county supervisors not asserting enough hubris or authoritarian power to wrestle the office away from the people and its democratically elected office holder. Strangely, the newspaper appears unwilling to fathom the possibility that some county supervisors actually respect the power of the ballot box and their constituents, so the paper rallies against the majority will again - the county board majority that is. The board voted 17 - 11 to place a non-binding referendum on the medical examiner/coroner question.

The Gazette editor(s) also wrote as if county residents won’t rest comfortably (no pun intended) until we know what it’s like to have a medical examiner instead of a coroner.
JG Editorial:
(Titled: Referendum on Coroner is wrong Choice)
How will the average voter know whether a coroner or medical examiner would best serve residents?
How will we know that a banana republic is any better than a democratic republic? Until we try it, huh? How do we know if an appointed certified CPA is any better than an elected county clerk? Or, how do we know if an appointed Financial Security Officer is any better than the elected county treasurer? Or how do we know if an appointed Deputy Commissioner of Finance is any better than an elected sheriff? Or whether an appointed medical examiner is any better than an elected coroner? We don’t, and since it’s not about performance or politics – why bother? But they bother because it's personal for some and a power play for others. And it's political.
JG Editorial:
(Titled: Referendum on Coroner is wrong Choice)
First, we live in a representative democracy, and we elect officials to represent us. We trust them to study the issues and see the big picture.
We trust them all except the coroner I suppose. For some reason I don’t envision a city council, a county board or congress when I think about “representative democracy.” They’re a mere panel of people just like the rest of us. The first thing I see when I hear the words “representative democracy” is the ballot box. Maybe it's just me, but it all flows from the ballot box and no matter how they spin it, that is exactly what authoritarians want to abolish.

With that said, I agree with the title of their editorial, “Referendum on coroner is wrong choice,” because there is no point or reason to be entertaining any of this in the first place. Proponents on both sides of the debate admit there’s nothing broken to fix, while some board members actually admitted they want more control (power) over the office. But if they feel the absolute need for a referendum, it should be initiated and petitioned by the people and not the county board, and it should be a referendum on all elected county offices – not just target the coroner’s. This would once and for all settle any arguments about intent and questions over what the “people” really want. I certainly can’t speak for everyone, but I’ll prefer a ballot box “appointee” over a political crony appointment every day of the week.

The Gazette deserves further honorable mention here because they felt the public meeting about the county board's resolution to abolish the elective coroner's office wasn't important enough to inform their readers about beforehand, but the county board's decision regarding the final action made front-page headlines the next day and picked up an editorial dedicated to changing the course. Still think it's not political?

It's unfortunate for democracy that we live in an era of taking the easy way out. That we'd rather get rid of democracy than bother to get rid of the forces that are constantly at work to corrupt it. Both newspapers, the Gazette and the BDN, come off sounding as if we have too much democracy in Wisconsin – and as if it’s a bad thing.

Note: This posting is the independent perspective of its author.


Richard L. Costerisan said...

Well said! The county board could appoint all of our representatives, local, state and federal. After all, we know the voters elected them to make those decisions, right? Perhaps a lifetime appointment for our county board supervisors is what the electorate really wants. Whew, I made my vote for the board, that takes care of my voting responsibilities for life. Now the Gazette can tell the board how to vote and everything will work just fine. I hope.

Anonymous said...

I have an idea. Maybe we should have a binding referendum on if the voters should elect the chairman of the county board. We need to make these people more accountable for their actions. He wants to take away our rights, maybe we should take away his.

Anonymous said...

Authoritarian Tom Barett wants to abolish the offices of state treasurer and secretary of state to save. Why don't you tyrannize him? Is it because he's a democrat and that's okay?

Lou Kaye said...

To Anonymous 11:04 - You're right, Barrett has proposed to abolish both offices to save a million dollars. But I suspect he will not be able to unilaterally dictate that into law because it would require a change in the state constitution. I'm not a constitutional expert on this but my understanding is unless a new state constitutional convention is called, his suggestion must pass through the assembly and senate AND must still be approved by Wisconsin citizens at the ballot box. That's not authoritarian. That's democracy.

Anonymous said...

I think the Gazette is being deliberately obtuse. According to the Gazette's line of thinking, voters aren't smart enough to educate themselves about candidates or referendums, but ARE smart enough to elect county board members. Then the county board members, who are elected with no special qualifications other than being at least 18 and living in their district, are somehow smarter than the rest of us.

Then there's the whole representative democracy thing. Yes, we elect the county board to oversee the functioning of the county government. We SEPARATELY elect the Sheriff, Coroner, Treasurer, etc. to oversee those respective county offices. Why do we elect them? Because we WANT them to be independent of the influences of the county board. Do we want the county board to decide who has to pay taxes and who gets a free pass? NO. Who gets off on a DUI because he is the son of a CB supervisor? NO WAY. Who's death gets ruled an accident instead of suicide because there is an insurance policy and they know a guy on the board? Too much of a stretch for ya?

Lou Kaye said...

Couldn't agree you more. Thanks for the clear logic.

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