Coro­ner can do three jobs? Hard to be­lieve

Dayton Daily News - - OPINION -

The lu­cra­tive gig that Dr. Rus­sell Upte­grove has for him­self looks aw­ful. It re­flects badly on Mont­gomery County Coro­ner James Davis and, more fun­da­men­tally, it’s em­blem­atic of why Ohio shouldn’t elect coroners.

Dr. Upte­grove is work­ing three jobs: He’s a full-time foren­sic pathol­o­gist for Mont­gomery County; he’s War­ren County’s elected coro­ner, and he’s a part­time pathol­o­gist for the But­ler County coro­ner’s of­fice.

For this work, Dr. Upte­grove pulled in $226,643 last year, and $212,092 as of Dec. 1 this year. These fig­ures don’t in­clude the amounts he earned teach­ing at the Ohio Peace Of­fi­cers Train­ing Academy, where he earned $6,800 be­tween 2006 and 2010.

Mean­while Dr. Upte­grove has more than a month of “days due” for hav­ing worked on week­ends, and he has 17 weeks of ac­cu­mu­lated vacation pay, at least nine weeks of which he can col­lect when he quits or re­tires. (His pay­out in­creases the longer he re­mains em­ployed with Mont­gomery County.)

Dr. Davis is re­spon­si­ble for the ac­count­ing of Dr. Upte­grove’s time for Mont­gomery County. A Day­ton Daily News in­ves­ti­ga­tion by staff writer Lynn Hulsey shows that, at best, Dr. Davis’ rules are loosey-goosey.

Dr. Upte­grove and oth­ers keep track of their time in hand­writ­ten logs that, in some in­stances, were back­dated or in­com­plete. Mean­while, in some years, Dr. Upte­grove got over­time, even though he isn’t en­ti­tled to it.

Dr. Davis said Dr. Upte­grove han­dled more cases than any other of his four other pathol­o­gists. He said he trusts his em­ploy­ees to put their time in, and that he’s not go­ing to re­quire them to punch clocks. He thinks his ad­min­is­tra­tive con­trols are suf­fi­cient, though he may de­cide to cap the num­ber of com­pen­satory days off he al­lows for work­ing week­ends.

“I feel like we’re get­ting picked on,” he said.

Not­with­stand­ing his protests, rea­son­able peo­ple have to won­der how Dr. Upte­grove fits all this far-flung work into his week, even as­sum­ing he works nights and week­ends. Seem­ingly his first loy­alty should be to Mont­gomery County, where he’s be­ing paid for at least a 40-hour week. But he also has to pay at­ten­tion to his re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in War­ren County, lest inat­ten­tion pos­si­bly cause him to lose $50,000-plus for that po­si­tion.

If Dr. Upte­grove has got­ten the mes­sage that it’s OK to work — or milk — the sys­tem to his ad­van­tage, that’s al­most un­der­stand­able. Af­ter all, Dr. Davis ran for re-elec­tion and then re­tired with­out di­vulging his in­ten­tions to vot­ers. Now he’s col­lect­ing his coro­ner’s pay and a pen­sion.

He also al­lowed Ken Betz, the di­rec­tor of the of­fice, to re­tire and be re­hired, paving the way for a $107,646 vacation and sick leave pay­out in 2002, right be­fore Mr. Betz be­gan dou­ble-dip­ping.

Dr. Davis ar­gues that it’s tough to at­tract full-time pathol­o­gists, and that the salaries he pays his five full-timers re­flect that he’s com­pet­ing for tal­ent. That’s un­doubt­edly true, but that fact is not an ex­cuse to al­low cushy deals that don’t pass the smell test.

It’s also hard to at­tract med­i­cal doc­tors to run for the elec­tive of­fice of coro­ner. That the job ever ended up on the bal­lot is amaz­ing. But pre­cisely the fact that most med­i­cal doc­tors aren’t go­ing to be drawn to the work cre­ates an op­por­tu­nity for Dr. Upte­grove, even as he’s also hold­ing down full-and part-time jobs.

Ohio shouldn’t be scroung­ing for med­i­cal doc­tors to run for coro­ner, and the work should be done in re­gional coro­ner of­fices where there’s a mind­set that just be­cause the tasks are dif­fi­cult, em­ploy­ees don’t get to abuse tax­pay­ers.

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