Dr. Jon Thogmartin suggested the county look to privatizing the office.
After a onslaught of controversy and public outcry regarding the Volusia County Medical Examiner's Office, Interim District Medical Examiner Jon Thogmartin recommended the county contract out the office to generate higher pay for its doctors to attract a qualified candidate to run it.
He is not that person, Thogmartin told the County Council during a workshop held on Tuesday, Aug. 7.
Thogmartin said he has completed his job and is ready to return to Pinellas County. He said he has solved the problem of the overcrowded body coolers by operating out of the facility all seven days of a week, created a rotational schedule for testifying and determined that there is not a staffing issue; the funded positions are "more than adequate" for the office.
He also said the 240-case backlog in the medical examiner's office has been solved in the last two weeks by eliminating nonessential and old-fashioned tasks in the reporting process. Prior to his arrival, Thogmartin said reports could take anywhere from 100-120 days.
Though District 7 needs a new medical examiner's office, there are some challenges.
One is what a prospective candidate will see if he or she conducts a simple online search on Volusia's medical examiner's office.
“You want somebody that’s happy as a tick, embedded in their office. Lure them out with incentives.”
Jon Thogmartin, Interim District Medical Examiner
"It is not good," Thogmartin said.
The other challenges revolve around the small number of forensic pathologists in the U.S. — about 450. Of those, Thogmartin said fewer than 100 are actually qualified to run the office. He also said the county does not want to hire someone who has changed offices frequently.
“You want somebody that’s happy as a tick, embedded in their office," Thogmartin said. "Lure them out with incentives.”
A way to do that is to privatize the medical examiner's office, which he volunteered to help the county do. He pointed out that Volusia County is in the minority in regards to how a medical examiner's office is run. Only six offices are run like Volusia's, and five of those are more expensive for taxpayers, cause more trouble and are not accredited.
He said Volusia lost its chief medical examiner because the county didn't pay her enough.
The County Council is considering Thogmartin's recommendation, along with whether or not the county should rehab the current office or rebuild a new one entirely.
County Council Chair Ed Kelley said new construction sometimes is faster than a remodel and asked staff to get an analysis on their options.
“If the analysis proves that we should do a new building, I’m all for that," County Councilwoman At-Large Joyce Cusack said.
Council disagrees on goals
From requests for internal and forensic audits to Councilwoman Heather Post's determination to be heard in regards to reassessing building conditions, the County Council's goal-setting portion of the workshop revolved around adamant disagreements and talking over each other.
In under 90 minutes, the council nixed plans to extend the Daytona Beach boardwalk, discussed the departure of ECHO grants in the future and talked about strengthening security at the courthouse. The majority of the board was in agreement with that.
When it came to issues of transparency, not so much.
Councilwoman Billie Wheeler asked for staff to put a discussion about an internal audit on an upcoming County Council meeting agenda. Councilwoman Deb Denys wants a third-party forensic audit on at least one major project in the budget. She said this should be done to regain their constituents' trust.
Kelley said he would be willing to discuss it in a County Council meeting, only to counter with all the reasons they don't need an audit.
"Transparency, my foot," Kelley said, who later said information is out there "black and white" already.
Wheeler said both types of audits should be performed to show that the county has nothing to hide. The recent issues, which include the medical examiner's office and the resurfacing of a forgotten impact fee study, have resulted in the Council losing credibility. Councilman Pat Patterson had nothing to add, except that he had a headache.
"There is no hidden agenda," Cusack said. "We're all here for the same reasons — that is to do what good stewards do. Take care of business in this county."