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posted: 12/10/2013 7:56 AM

Answers needed after freezer failure

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

It's one thing for Kane County Coroner Rob Russell and board Chairman Chris Lauzen to disagree about the size of the coroner's staff, the number of autopsies and the amount of the budget.

It's another thing for them to keep up the arguing after a Thanksgiving Day malfunction of the coroner's office freezer caused bodies to partially thaw.

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Russell says the freezer meltdown, fixed with $3,500 in emergency repairs, is proof facilities are so woefully outdated as to require a new county morgue.

Lauzen, frequently critical of Russell's requests for more money, says Russell has had a year since his election to inventory needed repairs and upgrades and hasn't done so.

For the rest of us, it's hard to say whether the faulty freezer is the tip of the iceberg indicating bigger problems that demand attention, or simply a fluke.

The ones who have to lead the search for that answer are Russell and Lauzen -- together. Rather than snipe over whether the freezer failure stems from chronic facilities shortcomings, the two need to join forces to find out what's needed.

The morgue has been an issue since at least 2004, when a board subcommittee report concluded the county soon would have no choice but to replace the aging facility in Geneva.

Not long after that, the coroner's office descended into disarray amid allegations that former coroner Chuck West allowed a TV/DVD/VCR combo to be stolen from the home of a dead Carpentersville man in 2007. West was indicted in 2010, but he died before his trial.

Russell vowed to put the office on a new path, and early in November he and Lauzen reached an agreement, mediated by Kane County Clerk Jack Cunningham, for the coroner's office to get an extra $87,927 to finish out the 2013 fiscal year in exchange for promising to stick at a flat $843,000 for each of the next three years.

"It's not me against him. Because when we do that, the taxpayers lose," Russell said of Lauzen.

But the two sounded less conciliatory after the Thanksgiving Day breakdown.

I'm not asking for the Taj Mahal," Russell said. "It's not about making the county look bad; it's about telling the truth. This office stinks."

Lauzen and Russell need to get back together and figure out whether the negotiated spending level is enough to forestall future emergencies and get the coroner's office back on track.

Professional and accrediting organizations for coroners and medical examiners surely could offer an assessment and also point to jurisdictions that are keeping standards high and costs contained.

No one in Kane County wants to pay more in taxes to fund county agencies, but no one wants to see the recently deceased suffer such indignity.

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