Election 2020: Candidates for county coroner talk about ways to improve the office, COVID-19 data reporting
McHenry County coroner candidates Kelly Liebmann, a Libertarian from Harvard, and Michael Rein, a Republican from Woodstock, both said the coroner should remain an elected position rather than an appointed one and that a recent study highlighting the need for improvements to the coroner's office was flawed.
A binding referendum on the November ballot will ask voters to decide whether the county coroner position should be eliminated as an elected office and replaced with a coroner appointed by a McHenry County Board committee.
On Thursday, Liebmann and Rein agreed an elected coroner helps maintain the autonomy of the office and places the decision-making power where it should be -- in the hands of county voters.
Rein and Liebmann participated in an endorsement interview Thursday afternoon facilitated by the editorial boards of the Northwest Herald and the Daily Herald.
Rein is a Marine Corps veteran, former McHenry County Board member and licensed chiropractor. He said he would use his strong medical background and fiscally conservative mindset to serve taxpayers.
Liebmann is a former Greenwood Township trustee and 9-1-1 dispatch worker with training in criminal and civil law. She wants to ensure the county's death investigations are science-based, autonomous and kept separate from county politics, she said.
"I'm running for coroner because I want to help those mourning the death of their loved ones," Liebmann said Thursday. "They need hope and support during tragic times."
The county coroner's office should remain an elected position and should be independent from the influence of other county elected officials, including the sheriff, Liebmann said.
When asked if she felt it was problematic that a deputy of the sheriff's office currently is serving as the county's coroner, Liebmann said the situation could lead to conflicts of interest.
Rein took this a step further by saying McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks has been "negligent" in failing to bring forward a new coroner.
Former coroner Anne Majewski resigned in February 2019 at which point the chairman was supposed to name a replacement within 60 days per Illinois state statute. Instead, Majewski was eventually replaced by interim coroner Lt. John Miller of the McHenry County sheriff's office.
When asked how she would improve the state of the coroner's office -- which was called "abhorrent and dysfunctional" in a third-party evaluation done by Dr. Dennis Kellar -- Liebmann said Majewski made many attempts to improve the office during her tenure; attempts which Liebmann alleged were blocked by Franks.
"I don't think the coroner's office is broken," she said. "I do believe it has been purposefully neglected for political reasons."
Rein said it was improper to have the study conducted by Kellar, a pulmonologist and sleep medicine specialist, who he said likely "never has seen the inside of a coroner's office," when the Illinois Coroner's Association could have done an analysis of the county coroner's office for free.
"There's been no substantial evidence of the coroner's office being broken," Rein added.
The budget for the coroner's office has decreased since 2016, Liebmann said. If elected, she would bring attention to the need to invest more funds in the office and would decline to take a pension as an added cost-saving measure.
In response, Rein said he, too, plans to decline the pension offered to the county coroner if elected.
When asked about the role the coroner's office should play in reporting on COVID-19 data, Rein said coordination between agencies is key to providing accurate statistical analysis during the pandemic.
He said he sees it as a "three-prong" system of data sharing between the coroner's office, the county health department and area hospitals.
Liebmann agreed and highlighted the importance of reporting COVID-19-related deaths as "probable deaths" if there is any uncertainty around whether the virus was the actual cause of death.