Council rejects morgue plan, drops deputy director

EVERETT — Most of the Snohomish County Council on Wednesday rejected a restructuring plan for the county morgue, leaving the management-challenged office without clear leadership.

Dan Christman has been running the Medical Examiner’s Office as its deputy director since being hired in September. Now, he’s out of a job come Friday.

The former Bothell police sergeant earlier this week had urged the council to formalize an arrangement that would keep him in charge as a nonphysician director. The council balked at his plan because it conflicts with state law, which requires the office be led by a doctor who specializes in forensic pathology. Two back-up proposals that Christman suggested didn’t appeal to most council members either.

“None of the options he presented were really viable,” County Council Chairman Dave Somers said after the meeting. “We have a structure now where a medical examiner can delegate responsibilities to an operations manager.”

By a 2-3 vote, the council failed to support any version of the restructuring plan.

On paper, that leaves the Medical Examiner’s Office’s doctors, death investigators, autopsy techs and administrative staff under the chief medical examiner. Nobody holds that job right now.

In a familiar split, Somers voted with councilmen Terry Ryan and Ken Klein against changing the office. Council members Stephanie Wright and Brian Sullivan supported a compromise that would have kept Christman in charge of death investigations and administration, while a doctor would oversee autopsies and other medical aspects of the job.

Somers said the compromise would be allowed under state law and county code, but doubted it would work. He compared it to having two chiefs running the same police department.

The vote on the Medical Examiner’s Office was the latest example of how fractious county government has become.

County Executive John Lovick’s administration hired Christman and said he was succeeding in his mission. Lovick on Wednesday rebuked the council members who voted against the restructuring plan, calling their decision “a total leadership failure.”

Lovick said his office is focused on planning for the future, while “the council majority is providing no direction on the next steps for the Medical Examiner’s Office.”

“For years and years, prior to my arrival, the Medical Examiner’s Office was plagued by problems — many of them due to a structure that simply didn’t work,” Lovick said in a statement.

The executive promised his administration would guide the office until finding a doctor with the right forensic and people skills to lead it. That search could take up to a year, he said.

Christman had concluded that the office’s existing structure puts an unfair burden on the medical examiner to oversee autopsies, death-scene investigations and administration. The chief medical examiner is frequently called upon to give court testimony and communicate with other county departments. That makes workdays of 12 or more hours routine, he said.

Christman said he isn’t angry about his ouster.

“My concern is not so much me, but my employees out here,” he said. “There’s got to be a message of hope for them.”

The staff includes several people with master’s degrees in the sciences. They worked through exhausting conditions last year to identify the remains of 43 people killed in the Oso mudslide. Later that year, they responded to the mass shooting at Marysville Pilchuck High School.

“These people do a job that very few people would want to do,” Christman said.

Employee morale suffered under the leadership of the office’s previous medical examiner, Dr. Norman Thiersch, who resigned in September. Thiersch had been named as a defendant in two employee lawsuits that the county settled.

The forensic parts of Thiersch’s job are now being done on a temporary basis by Dr. Daniel Selove. The associate medical examiner is Dr. Stanley Adams.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, nhaglund@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @NWhaglund.

Talk to us

More in Local News

An emergency responder uses a line to navigate the steep slope along a Forest Service road where seven people were injured Saturday when a vehicle went off the road near the Boulder River trailhead west of Darrington. (Darrington Fire District)
7 hurt in crash off cliff west of Darrington; 1 airlfited

A vehicle crashed on a forest service road near Boulder River, leading to a major rescue operation.

The aftermath of a fire that damaged a unit at the Villas at Lakewood apartment complex in Marysville on Saturday. (Marysville Fire District)
2 families displaced by Marysville apartment fire

Nobody was injured when the fire broke out Saturday morning on 27th Avenue NE.

Mukilteo asks for input on housing density, and it’s complicated

Here’s a guide to what voters should know about the advisory ballot measure. What does it actually do?

Kevin Gallagher (from the Snohomish County Official Local Voters’ Pamphlet November 2, 2021 General Election)
Kevin Gallagher, a Marysville City Council candidate, dies

Kevin Gallagher, 52, died at home of natural causes. He was challenging incumbent Councilmember Tom King.

Clouds hover over the waters off Everett's western edge Monday morning. (Sue Misao / The Herald)
Get ready for La Niña and a soggy winter in Snohomish County

After a hot, dry summer, Washington feels like Washington again. Damp. Gray. Normal.

Top (L-R): Louis Harris, Peter Zieve, Kevin Stoltz. Bottom (L-R): Tom Jordal, Steve Schmalz, Alex Crocco.
Race for Mukilteo City Council is a mix of old and new names

Housing, waterfront and public safety top the list of concerns for candidates.

A $10,000 taxidermied grizzly bear for sale at the new Everett Consignment on Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021 in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Oh my! An Instagram wonderland of loveseats, rhinos and bears

Everett Consignment in the former Bramble building has 60,000 square feet of new and vintage items.

Downtown Coupeville on Whidbey Island, March 2021. (Harry Anderson)
Whidbey Island real estate prices continue to climb

Despite a slight lull in August and September, it continues to be a seller’s market on Whidbey.

Gold Bar man airlifted after trying to start fire with gas

The man suffered severe burns after he used gasoline to start a fire in his yard.

Most Read