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May 24, 2024

Shelby County – Deputy Coroners Take Oath Of Office – Compensation Never Set By County Board

By Kirk Allen & John Kraft

On October 4, 2023

Shelby Co. (ECWd) –

January of 2020 was the first time we came to a Shelby County Board meeting.  The purpose was to hopefully educate the new board on several matters that needed to be fixed and educate them on the importance of reading the laws that apply to their obligations.  The full video is below and it’s keyed to my public comment.  As it relates to this article, the portion of the video where I speak about the coroner and deputy coroners is notable.

About a month ago we received a tip that the Shelby County Deputy Coroners had not taken their oath of office. Recalling that I spoke about coroner matters during our first public comment, I went back and reviewed the video to refresh my memory. While I did not speak to oaths of office, I did speak to the compensation of deputy coroners.

I submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), request for the county board’s determination of compensation for deputy coroners, deputy coroners’ oaths of office, and reports filed by deputy coroners over the last three years.

As we pointed out in 2020, the law requires the county board to determine the compensation of deputies.

The FOIA response indicated there were no records of the county board ever setting the compensation. That indicates County Chairman Bruce Cannon and all the board members present listened to what I said, but did nothing to fix the very issue raised in their own committee discussion we pointed to in our presentation.  We do note that the law requiring such compensation to be set by the county board was passed in the 88th General Assembly.  The 86th General Assembly indicates the coroner sets the compensation.  According to multiple attorneys and case law on similar conflicts, the controlling law would be the most recent one adopted.

The current board who has been fixing things broken for years can add deputy coroner compensation to the list they are working on.

The response regarding the oaths of office was the same, no responsive documents.

I asked the current coroner Brad Phelgey why his deputies had not taken and filed their oath of office as required by law.

“I wasn’t aware that I was required to do that. No one ever told me that there was such a thing. When I was trained by the former coroner prior to my taking office and all the coroner training I have attended it was never mentioned as best I remember. I called the head of training for the coroner’s training board and he stated that it should be added to the 40 hr new coroner class. I always try to do what’s right. I just didn’t know”. (Coroner Phegley)

Considering the coroners training board lists the very statute on oath of office on their website I’m not sure why they would need to add this to their coroner class.  As we outlined in our presentation to the county board in 2020, reading the actual applicable laws to that office, as are listed on the training board’s website, would have prevented this from ever happening, assuming they followed what was required in the law.

We have confirmed that Coroner Phegley has ensured all his deputies have taken their oaths and filed them with the county clerk as required by law.  This is an example of what we call compliance through FOIA.  Considering deputy coroners have certain police powers, taking and filing their oath is an important item to take care of.  We can only wonder why those deputies failed to follow the law outlining their obligations.

We also contacted the head of the coroners training organization and for reasons we can’t explain they are not returning any calls.  If they are adding the oath of office requirement to their training it is a good thing, but one would think an emphasis on reading the actual laws they post on their website and encouraging them to do what it says would be more appropriate. That way other things are not missed like this one.

The reports filed by deputy coroners are in fact signed by deputies but none of them had taken their oath of office which could be problematic for them depending on potential legal concerns raised in matters related to those cases.

We are pleased the matter has been resolved but disgusted that past board members chose to ignore the compensation issue, especially in light of the fact they control the budget.

Fixing things is easy.  Admitting things are broken appears to be the biggest challenge with public officials.



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1 Comment
  • Camille Willis
    Posted at 06:40h, 06 October Reply

    Thank you for bringing attention to the oversight regarding the oath and compensation for Shelby County’s deputy coroners. It’s crucial that such procedural and legal frameworks are adhered to, for the proper functioning and accountability of public offices. Your detailed investigation sheds light on areas that need immediate rectification to uphold the law and ensure public trust.

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