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Coroner, clerk, County Board candidates make their cases in Elgin

ELGIN – Candidates running for Kane County coroner canvassed their qualifications – from running a biohazard recovery business to working in law enforcement – during a forum Thursday in Elgin.

Tao Martinez and Rob Russell answered questions about the qualifications they think best fit the coroner position, the process for investigating a death and whether they would change hospice death procedures.

Aside from the coroner’s race, the forum at the Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin included candidates in the County Board chairman race, along with the circuit clerk, county recorder and several County Board races.

Sigi Psimenos, president of the League of Women Voters of the Elgin Area, moderated the forum and asked questions that were submitted by the audience.

Russell said his experience as a 20-year veteran of the DuPage County Sheriff’s Office qualifies him for the coroner position. He said in that position, he conducted numerous death investigations and stressed that the coroner holds a law enforcement position.

“This is police work,” he said, noting the coroner is charged with conducting body fluid analysis.

Martinez said as the founder of a biohazard recovery company, he has experience with cleaning up death scenes, hundreds of hours in forensic training and certifications in other forensic fields, including blood splatter and bullet trajectory. He said he also knows the importance of dealing with families compassionately.

“It takes a very important skill, which is dealing with families which are victims of tragic incident,” he said.

Psimenos asked what, if anything, would the two candidates change when it comes to handling hospice deaths. Martinez said as coroner, he would be an advocate for the elderly who may have been neglected or abused.

“There are a lot of people who fall through the cracks,” he said.

Russell said a phone call from the coroner’s office is a good start, and as an investigator, the coroner needs to determine if there’s any element of suspicion in a hospice death before going to the scene.

“We can’t allocate resources to go out on every hospice death,” he said. “If there’s a suspiciousness, obviously we need to go out there.”

When answering a question about what a death investigation entails, Russell said police officers are on the scene and start collecting evidence and preserving statements from people that the coroner would need to know upon his or her arrival. That’s where is police experience comes in, he said.

Martinez said the coroner’s office supervises all sheriff’s deputy and administrative staff. He said as a business owner, he has the supervisory skills required for the office and to work with families who lost loved ones.

Candidates for the Kane County Circuit Clerk’s office focused on fixing the court’s computer system, and Tom Hartwell and Ed Nendick agreed spending more than $12 million on a new judicial computer program is too much money.

Nendick said not only is the price tag too high, the money would go to a company that’s not in Illinois. He said Kane County should collaborate with other counties that have already developed integrated systems that work. He said that would save $12 million “four-fold” and eliminate $2 million in annual fees for maintenance.

Hartwell said the $12 million price tag is “way out of bounds” and the circuit clerk needs to do more with less. He spoke with the circuit clerk in DuPage County, who said the county would be willing to sell the program and work with Kane County.

He also called for automation in the office, and said it’s important to make sure computer and phone systems are up to date. Nendick agreed, saying his goal is to get the best systems of all the courts to move Kane County courts forward and keep them functioning.

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