DELHI — A proposal billed as a cost-saving measure to replace the current Delaware County medical examiner’s office with a coroner system was pronounced dead on arrival Friday when proponents fell just short of capturing enough support from fellow town supervisors.
The vote by the Board of Supervisors at a special meeting was an example of how a majority does not always prevail in a democracy. Under parliamentary rules, the resolution before the board required 3,200 weighted votes— about two-thirds of the total number of votes assigned to board members — in order to pass.
But the fact that the backers of the idea drew a clear majority of support raised questions about whether the influence of the county board’s chairman — Harpersfield Town Supervisor James Eisel, a staunch advocate for sticking with the current medical examiner scheme — is waning in county governance.
Eisel, who according to colleagues did not attend the meeting because he was tending to his very ill mother, has signaled that he wants to keep the current medical examiner, Dr. Richard Ucci, in place. Four other town supervisors were also absent from the meeting: Martin Donnelly of Andes, Sam Rowe Jr. of Hancock, Steven Bower of Kortright and Mike Spaccaforno of Masonville.
The other 13 supervisors voted for the resolution, which would have called upon state lawmakers to give the county home-rule authority to make the change. Had Albany done that, the county board would have still had to have another vote to abolish the medical examiner office and create the new coroner system.
Miller said Delaware County has the most expensive system in the state for dealing with unattended deaths. He collects $450 for every report of an unattended death, she said, noting there are 145 such cases each year. On top of that, she said, the medical examiner receives as stipend of $450 per month. If an autopsy is required, she said, that work has to be farmed out to a forensic pathologist because Ucci is not a forensic pathologist.
She said both Otsego and Schoharie counties have coroner systems that are less costly than the current system being by funded by Delaware County taxpayers.
Davenport Town Supervisor Dennis Valente said it has been demonstrated to him that that Miller’s proposal could save Delaware County taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars per year.
But that calculation drew a rebuke from Roxbury Town Supervisor Thomas Hynes — who, like Valente and Miller, is a Democrat. A funeral home director, Hynes argued that the Davenport supervisor’s estimate was so far off the mark that it was “pure asinine.”
Shortly after a heated exchange between Valente and Hynes, Delhi Supervisor Peter Bracci — who, like Eisel, is a Republican — urged his colleague to seriously consider replacing Eisel as the county board chairman.
Bracci said he was not interested in seeking the chairmanship himself. When interviewed later, he argued that Eisel has interfered with the work of committees, and has not made county government as transparent as it should be.
The GOP town supervisors hold a strong majority of the board. The next vote for the chairman of the county board will come at year’s end.
In addition to Hynes, those voting against Miller’s resolution were: Deposit Town Supervisor Thomas Axtell, Franklin Supervisor Donald Smith and Bovina Supervisor Tina Mole.
Miller said time was of the essence in advancing her proposal because the current legislative session in Albany is scheduled to end Thursday. She estimated her proposal would save the county between $30,000 and $50,000 per year.
“I feel that if we could save the county money and give the same or better service, we have an obligation to make the change,” Miller said.
The county once had a coroner system, but that ended in 1966. Miller said she believes the county could line up individuals who would respond to unattended death reports for $75 per incident, the amount that Schoharie County currently pays.
A call to Ucci’s office for comment was not returned.