Senate Bill 66 – Is it time for no more elected coroners?

This interesting bill was dropped in the hopper from State Senator Jim Bolin, a measure which purports to revise the provisions for appointing county coroners. But if you delve into the language, it appears to do much more, and remove them from laws applicable for the election of county officers:

Senate Bill 66

Introduced by: Senator Bolin

An Act to revise provisions providing for the appointment of county coroners.

Be it enacted by the Legislature of the State of South Dakota:

Section 1. That § 12-1-1.1 be AMENDED:

12-1-1.1. Laws applicable to election of county officers.

All election laws of this state relating to nomination and election of candidates for office on political ballots shall apply to the nomination and election of a sheriff, county auditor, register of deeds, treasurer, state’s attorney, and coroner and state’s attorney.

Section 2. That § 7-7-1.1 be AMENDED:

7-7-1.1. County officers to be elected quadrenially–Staggered terms–Expiration of term for combined offices.

Unless otherwise provided by county charter, at primary and general elections there shall be nominated and elected in each organized county of this state county officers as follows:

(1) In 1974 and each fourth year thereafter, a sheriff, county auditor, and register of deeds;

(2) In 1976 and each fourth year thereafter, a treasurer, state’s attorney, and coroner and state’s attorney.

The terms of all such officers shall be four years, or until their successors have been duly elected and qualified. Nevertheless, the term of any county office, combined with another pursuant to § 7-7-1.2 or 7-7-1.3, shall expire on the first Monday of January following the ordinance authorizing the combination.

Section 3. That § 7-7-1.4 be AMENDED:

7-7-1.4. Appointment of coroner in certain counties authorized.

Notwithstanding the provisions of § 7-7-1.1, the The board of county commissioners in any county with a population of seventy‑five thousand or more may, by resolution adopted by a majority vote of the commission, appoint a coroner who shall serve at the pleasure of such the board for a term no longer than four years, subject to renewal by a majority vote of the commission for subsequent terms, each no longer than four yearsHowever, no board of county commissioners may exercise the authority granted pursuant to this section unless:

(1) Not later than the April first preceding the election for coroner, the board, by resolution, adopts the appointment option; and

(2) The appointment of any appointed coroner may not take effect until the expiration of the term of office of any duly elected coroner.

Follow the bill here.

If I’m reading this measure correctly, Bolin is opining legislatively that the time is done for coroners to be an elected position in the State of South Dakota, and it can just be appointed by the County Commissioners.

At least in my experience working elections.. I can count on one hand the number of coroner elections over 30 years that might have been somewhat contested. And that might be more attributable to personalities and ego versus a genuine public or philosophical interest by the public on having someone in the coroner’s job.

Realistically, I think the time is here for it to be an appointed position. I think the County Commissioners can handle the appointment of this position, especially in rural counties where they might struggle to find a funeral director or physician who is willing to do the job.

7 thoughts on “Senate Bill 66 – Is it time for no more elected coroners?”

  1. There was a contested coroner election in LAKE county not too long ago.

    It is also never on the ballot alone, but with other races.

    I like electing and holding people accountable.

  2. Coroner, along with Sheriff, should never have been politicized in the first place. These are critical jobs in which the County Commissioners should have ultimate authority over while not subject to the prevailing winds of politics (if it is windy at all). We elect our Commissioners to oversee each county’s operations, etc. If there is a problem or issue, then the Commissioners should then be able to remove the Coroner or Sheriff. The same goes for the States Attorney – yet another position that rarely has electoral opposition. Bottom line, let the Commissioners do their job in selecting/hiring these positions while treating them as higher level employees of the county responsible to the Commission, who in turn, are accountable to the citizenry.

    1. I would respectfully disagree on those other offices.

      Aside from their law enforcement duties, the Sheriff ends up setting a lot of department policy, especially if there’s a jail in the county. There should be a distinct separation of powers between the County Commission and the Sheriff.

      Even more important with the State’s Atty. Here in Brookings, we had a vacancy where the CC appointed someone in the office. Shortly thereafter, their appointee actually prided themselves on avoiding jury trials. The opponent came in and pointed those things out, and the appointee lost.

      Had that not been an elected office, there’s likely no one who would held the CC accountable for a bad pick, versus the officeholder having to be directly accountable.

  3. I think for the largest counties and any county which provides coroner services to either other counties or the state should be an elected position. I’m ok with it being non-partisan but I think it should remain elected in the larger communities. Not having opposition isn’t a reason to have it appointed. It mean the incumbent is either doing a good job or there is consensus the candidate will do a good job.

    In some ways, the coroner can be a position which can call out law enforcement with regard to procedures and controls. Put the coroner under the house, it reduces flexibility to raise issues.

  4. Don’t you find it great that we can have a calm, educated, civil discussion without calling each other names? This is what is needed more than anything, not only on this blog, but with our society in general. Thanks for your opinions, yet I must then wonder about other elected officials on the county level, such as Auditor and Treasurer. These two positions seem even more operational/administrative than others. Especially when you look at the Auditor’s office, where it should be non-partisan to begin with since it handles the elections function and performs other admin duties. Same goes for the Treasurer’s office. Bottom line, although these jobs haven’t gone uncontested quite as much as the Sheriff and Coroner, they do have their share of lack of competitors. I just think that this is one way of streamlining our county offices using a business-like mindset as opposed to one that is politicized. Just sayin.

    1. Bob,

      It is clear we have entirely different views on to whom the Coroner, Sheriff, Auditor and Treasurer they should be accountable: to the Commission or directly to the people. And, as you say, it is ok to have different views.

      BTW, the Auditor and Treasurer are separate from the County Commission to have standard financial controls which is why they are elected and as directly accountable to the people (similar rationale to separate the coroner from the Sheriff). From a governance stand-point, I can’t see how we are served by having the Auditor, Treasurer and Appropriator under the same roof.

      Further, I don’t think being elected means it is politicized. I think it means they are accountable to the people, for whom they work.

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