It wasn’t an easy race to the coroner’s office, but Rob Russell survived.
He faced Democratic opponent Tao Martinez in a campaign that Russell previously described as “unsavory.”
Russell’s credentials were called into question, and the two candidates clashed over classifying the coroner’s office as a law enforcement position.
Martinez had challenged Russell’s claim that he has lead homicide and death investigation duties.
Russell, in turn, had challenged Martinez’s list of certificates and training as a death cleanup vendor at coroners’ and medical examiners’ conferences.
The race concluded Tuesday with Russell receiving 57 percent of the vote. And Russell said he’s ready to tackle a troubled office and repair strained relationships.
One of his messages during the campaign called to restore the integrity of the troubled office. Former Coroner Chuck West, who died in July after complications from surgery, had been charged with official misconduct.
Russell, 45, said his priorities include going through an accreditation process and repairing relationships with several groups with which the coroner will work closely. He said his goal is to reach out to funeral homes and police and fire agencies. He said he hopes to repair the strain caused by the previous coroner’s office administration.
“We need to have a good relationship and get rid of the egos,” he said.
Russell said there’s a benefit to having a good working relationship with advocacy groups because those groups have expertise in counseling families.
He said that’s not something coroners are good at, and those groups can assist families who need those services.
Another longer-term goal of Russell’s is to make the position an accredited office.
“I think the accreditation process will bring more legitimacy to the office,” he said.
Accreditation would bring the coroner’s office up to speed on the best death investigation practices used nationally. He’s in the process of exploring the requirements of an accrediting agency called the International Association of Coroners and Medical Examiners, of Las Vegas.
“It may cost a few thousand dollars to get this done,” he said. “But it will be worth it in the end.”
Russell, who has spent 20 years in law enforcement and works as a sergeant with the DuPage County Sheriff’s Office, said he has accreditation experience already working with the sheriff’s office.
He said going through accreditation will increase the chances of capturing grants.
The coroner’s office also is self-insured, he said, and accreditation could help bring insurance costs down. But the accreditation process doesn’t happen overnight; Russell said it will take a few years to complete.
Once he’s sworn in, Russell said he has 60 days to complete a training course required by state statute. He said his first order of business is to quit his job with the DuPage County Sheriff’s Office to focus on his role as coroner full time.
This was the second public office Russell has sought – he lost a bid for Kane County sheriff in 2010 and had intentions of running again for that seat in 2014 until he started researching the qualifications of the coroner’s office.
He said as a law enforcement official, he didn’t realize how well his skills translated to the coroner position, so he decided to run. He also saw a need to restore the office’s credibility.
“There was an immediate need for talent, and my talents matched,” he said.