Coroner insulted his colleagues

I have served as an Essex County coroner and licensed funeral director for the past 29 years. After much deliberation, I decided not to seek re-election this year. During my tenure as a coroner, I responded to thousands of calls all over the county, and even a few outside the county when needed. I have missed holidays, family events and many other occasions due to coroner calls. Yet never over the last 29 years did I seek to degrade my colleagues or draw press attention for being “overworked.” In the past, all of the coroners worked together, and the job was done right. Before I leave my position as coroner at the end of December, I feel it is necessary to address two newspaper articles quoting Francis Whitelaw misrepresenting the current situation in Essex County and slandering fellow coroners.

On Sept. 24, 2017, an article was published in the Press-Republican entitled “Coroners offer input on new mandated training.” While I was not quoted in this article, I do believe that education is important, and new coroners should attend appropriate training. Francis Whitelaw states, “The face of death investigation is changing all the time. … Gone are the days of having what I term a ‘body-kicker’ — just go out and pronounce somebody dead and then walk away and leave it for police.” Whitelaw is a retired officer who may want to get more involved in the position than the scope of the job description. Coroners work with the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, New York State Police, Essex County Sheriff’s Office as well as local police, emergency personnel and doctors. We all have our role.

In New York state, we have medical examiners in the larger counties and coroners in the majority of smaller counties. A coroner is called for when there is an accidental or unattended death. Because the coroners in this county are not medical doctors, it is necessary for the coroner to work with a doctor or pathologist to obtain a death certificate. As a coroner, I would also coordinate plans with the funeral home of the family’s choice. In the majority of cases, there is no need for a coroner to launch a death investigation and transport the body himself. This is just additional costs to taxpayers and more money for the coroner’s pocket. In many cases, the deceased’s doctor is willing to sign the death certificate, and no transport or coroner duty is necessary.

In the previous paragraph, I mentioned that a “coroner is called for,” not the other way around. It is known that Mr. Whitelaw has called Ray Brook to report he is on his way before his services were even requested. He transports bodies to his own financial gain on a regular basis. Funeral homes have insurance necessary to transport human remains and are fully aware of the proper protocols. I sincerely hope that the coroners who are making removals in their personal vehicles have the same coverage and the New York State Department of Health’s rules and regulations are followed, with no exceptions.

I would also like to address Mr. Whitelaw crude reference to coroners as “body-kickers.” Mr. Whitelaw’s jaded point of view and lack of compassion stand out. I have never treated a deceased body with anything but respect and compassionate care, as have all of Essex County coroners I have worked with over the years. I have helped families navigate the difficult situation an unexpected death can create. You can take all the education courses in the world, but there is a lot more to being a good coroner.

The second article detailing Frank Whitelaw’s outrageous accusations appeared in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise on Dec. 1, 2018, and the Post-Star on Dec. 3 in an article entitled, “Essex County coroner fed up with ‘lazy’ colleagues.” Since Dec. 3, an editorial and a second article were published in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise concerning the Essex County coroner issue, as well as a radio program on North Country Public Radio.

I would first point out that neither I nor my fellow corners are lazy. I, like the other coroners, am well known in my community, and I can and have been “found” on many occasions. I have a beeper and there are people in authority who have that number. Second, my name has been dragged through the mud, and my personal legal issues have been run in every newspaper article on the coroner topic when it is completely irrelevant to the case Frank Whitelaw is trying to make.

We, as coroners, are paid $4,400 per year to be on call. If a call does not include a transport, a log is not required. We can take calls and never submit a voucher. If a coroner transports, a log is required, and the coroner will be reimbursed for expenses. What the article should have revealed is how much each coroner is collecting above and beyond the standard on-call salary. How many times has Whitelaw transported bodies unnecessarily at the county’s expense? Why does he complain about getting all the calls, and in the next breath say that the state police call him first because they want his background in investigation. Being a retired police officer is not part of the job. If he wants to perform police duties, he never should have retired from the force.

Whitelaw says he is willing to take all the calls, but not if the others are being paid the same amount. They are obviously not being paid the same amount because he collects an additional check every time he responds to a call. It is apparent after reading all of the recent articles that Mr. Whitelaw would like to be a sole coroner appointed by the county. This would mean he would expect to receive a full-time salary in addition to the retirement pension he receives. He may claim to be overburdened now, but what will the county do when he is the only coroner and cannot handle all of the calls?

This whole issue brought up to slander my name at the end of my career does not deter all of the good that I have done. I am proud to say that I have served Essex County residents for over 30 years with nothing but love and compassion. I hope that if I have crossed your path, you will remember that I performed my duties well and with respect. Upon leaving my position, I would also like to thank all of officers, doctors and first responders I worked with over the years.

Paul Connery lives in Ticonderoga.