FARGO — Cass County will have a new coroner after Aug. 31 as Dr. John Baird is retiring after 37 years on the job.
County commissioners on Monday, July 6, unanimously voted to go ahead with having a new job description updated for the position, which Baird has been doing on a part-time basis for about $25,000 a year.
The coroner's office in the Fargo Cass Public Health building currently also has two other deputy coroners and two death investigators.
County Board Chairman Chad Peterson said it's likely they could promote Deputy Coroner Kriste Ross, who currently is paid about $75,000, to the position, although the board also discussed advertising for the job.
It's possible the position could become full time.
The office determines the cause and manner of reported deaths by conducting medical and legal death investigations, and the county website said they do so "while ensuring that everyone who has suffered a loss is treated with dignity, respect and compassion."
County Administrator Robert Wilson said Baird has been saving county taxpayers "a lot of tax dollars" by doing the job on a part-time basis.
Wilson said he had talked with Sanford Health and Essentia Health about a shared arrangement by hiring a forensic pathologist together, but that they both didn't seem interested at this time.
He said such a partnership is how the coroner's job is done in Sioux Falls.
Thus, he said the process by where the coroner's office here works with the state's forensics examiner and the University of North Dakota Medical School's pathology department on autopsies will likely be continued.
State's Attorney Birch Burdick said he talked with the new state forensics examiner, who just started last week, and said a coroner doesn't necessarily need medical training but should have "experience and an interest in the work."
He also said the county commissioners will appoint the new coroner to a five-year term.
Commissioner Ken Pawluk said the county sheriff is deemed the backup coroner and that they could appoint an acting coroner if a decision isn't made by Aug. 31.
He also wondered if someone on the current staff couldn't fulfill the role.