Panel doesn't take kindly to Kane coroner's request for more autopsy funding
The Kane County judicial and public safety committee Thursday refused to vote on a request for more money to pay for autopsies, as discord continued between it and Coroner Rob Russell.
Russell asked for approval to spend up to $56,000 more than what is currently budgeted for autopsies. Russell said he would draw upon the county's contingency fund, with oversight of the county's finance director.
According to the year-to-date financial report, Russell has spent about 82 percent of his autopsy budget, with four months left in the fiscal year.
Committee Chairman Cristina Castro said the request was being made earlier than normal, and she did not want to set a precedent for other departments in asking for more money instead of controlling spending. Committee member John Martin said officials are to reduce spending before requesting supplemental funding. Russell said he had done all he could.
"Preventable deaths are about one of the only things I can do to help control the budget, because I don't know how many people are going to die," Russell said. "If you are not going to do this (the supplement), what is your solution?"
The criticism and questioning then flew.
Castro said Russell had not explained to the committee why he hired a consultant to design a website for his office. Russell disagreed, pointing to a 56-page written report about his office he distributed to the committee Thursday morning.
He also said he was told by the county's information technologies department that it didn't have the expertise to design a website. The website would contain information about the office and about preventable causes of death, and it would automate some processes, Russel said.
Castro also criticized Russell for not preparing his deputies to answer questions about his budget and the consultant at a previous meeting, when he was out of town, despite her telling him to make sure they were prepared.
"When it comes to me, why am I getting singled out? Where is it that you think I am going wrong?" Russell said.
Committee member Theresa Barreiro used the opening, telling him three-quarters of the phone calls she receives about county business are "What the heck is Russell doing?"
She mentioned his recent re-examination of cases handled by the previous coroner: "It is great for publicity, but how are you going to (examine old cases) if you can't (even) make the budget?"
She questioned whether he had the authority to do so and lambasted him for telling the media about it before telling the committee.
"Your problem here is you have not established trust with this committee. We have to read about things in the newspaper," Castro said.
Committee member Kurt Kojzarek asked why Russell didn't simply request a link to the health department's site on his office's page.
"Why double up on it?" Kojzarek said, saying the health department page is where he would look for health information.
He also questioned why the coroner should take on the task of educating the public about avoiding death at all, given it isn't mandated by the state. Russell said other coroners do anti-death work, and he said he obtained about $300,000 worth of heroin-overdose antidote kits for the county to use.
"But they don't have budget deficits to overcome," Kojzarek said.