Coroner can do three jobs? Hard to believe
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.