Failure to find pathologist an indication of our times
Mahoning County was without a budget director for more than three years before commissioners found someone to fill the position. Critics of county government unfairly charged that Edward Reese, Vicki Allen Sherlock and David Ludt were simply incompetent, or worse, for not being able to quickly hire a person with the kind qualifications and experience needed.
It didn't matter to them that the refusal of voters to consistently pass the 0.5 percent sales tax, which would have stabilized the county's finances, made it nearly impossible to attract highly qualified applicants. The on-again, off-again tax made job security something the commissioners could not promise.
Well, Mahoning County did finally hire a budget director -- but not before valuable time had been lost in developing a five-year and 10-year capital budget and multi-year spending plans.
That situation provides insight into why county Coroner Dr. David Kennedy is having such a difficult time finding a replacement for forensic pathologist Dr. Jesse C. Giles, who resigned in June to take a similar job in Jacksonville, Fla. Even the $110,000-a-year salary that Giles was making -- he was the highest paid county employee -- isn't doing the trick.
"The biggest problem seems to be that there just aren't that many [forensic pathologists] out there," Kennedy told The Vindicator. "And the ones who are out there apparently don't want to come here."
Why wouldn't they want to come to the area? That's a question the task force being formed by the commissioners to study the feasibility of a regional forensic center could address.
With Giles gone, only Trumbull County in the Valley has a forensic pathologist on staff. Dr. Humphrey Germaniuk is paid $109,000 a year and, in the opinion of Commissioner Michael O'Brien, is doing an excellent job.
Germaniuk was chief forensic pathologist in Washington, D.C., and because of that has become a very valuable commodity in this region. Mahoning County commissioners should make sure he is invited to serve on the task force, not only because of his expertise and background, but because he may have contacts in the profession that could prove helpful.
Sending bodies to a forensic center in Cleveland for autopsies, as Kennedy does, is a costly proposition. It costs $1,040 per autopsy, and the county does about 150 a year. While the quality of the work is fine, it takes a longer time to get the results than when Giles was on staff. Such delays affect the completion of the coroner's investigations.
From a prosecution standpoint, the absence of one person who does the autopsies and is available to testify as to the results is cause for some concern, says Timothy Franken, chief assistant prosecutor.
Kennedy and other county officials express frustration at not being able to fill the forensic pathologist position. But it's more than that: It's troubling. If a major county like Mahoning can't attract qualified individuals to fill important government positions, the prospects for the future are bleak, indeed.