Marion County Coroner Kenneth Ackles Sr. has failed to pass portions of a training course mandated under a new state law that requires the county to withhold his paycheck until he does.
Even though he didn't pass the test, the county has continued to pay Ackles since Jan. 1, the deadline for the state's coroners to complete the 40-hour training course and test.
County payroll records show Ackles has been paid $4,442 so far this year. He is paid $38,501 annually.
The law went into effect July 1, giving coroners six months to take the required classes and test in a course that some coroners described as "basic knowledge."
The law was enacted in response to a tragic mix-up in which a Taylor University student who had survived a 2006 crash was misidentified as having died in it.
Ackles, reached by phone Friday, said he is still in training and had passed some of the multiple-part test in several tries.
He said he plans to comply with the law and will continue his training.
"It's a legal issue," Ackles said. "When I was elected, my job was a management job. Then they passed a law in the middle of my term."
On that last point, Ackles probably has a good legal argument that the legislature can't force him to pass the exam or lose his paycheck. As he points out, the law didn't exist when he was elected, and it probably can only legally be applied to a person elected to the coroner's office this year and going forward. When I checked candidate filings in the Marion County Election Board office yesterday, Ackles was the only candidate who had filed for coroner. This news may force Ackles out of the race. He told O'Shaughnessy he was unsure whether he would seek re-election even though he's been telling committeepersons he planned to run again.
Ironically, one of the persons who helped create the exam, Dr. John Pless, is seeking the Republican nomination for coroner at today's GOP slating convention as Advance Indiana first reported earlier this week. "Pless, a former coroner in two other Indiana counties, said he hopes to be slated by his party today," O'Shaughnessy writes. "Pless, 69, said he was motivated to run because he has been disappointed in the way Ackles has run the office." "He said mishandled cases have caused problems for families in obtaining death certificates and insurance payments." "Pless, a former president of the National Association of Medical Examiners, said he helped develop the test administered by the Indiana State Coroners Training Board." "I feel that the test is an absolute minimum for a person who is involved in making decisions about how death came about," Pless said. "I think it's very obvious that not passing is a problem."
News of Ackles failing the test seems to come as a surprise to Marion County officials who are legally required to take action under the new law. "Bob Elrod, the council's attorney, said he was unaware that the law required the council to monitor the test results and order the auditor to withhold Ackles' paycheck," O'Shaughnessy writes. "I guess we have an obligation to investigate this matter," Elrod said after reviewing state law. "I'll call this to the attention of the president and see how he wants to proceed."
Although O'Shaughnessy's story doesn't mention it, the Chief Deputy Coroner, who Ackles fired and who later won a more than $400,000 administrative law decision against the coroner's office on the grounds that he had been discriminated against on the basis of his race, is also planning to run for coroner as a Democrat. John Linehan attempted to file the required slating fee with the Democrats before the deadline, but his fee was rejected after he was told he didn't tender enough money. Candidates seeking slating have traditionally been required to tender 10%, which in the case of the coroner's office is $3,850. Linehan, however, was told that he had to pay a 15% fee, even though a source tells me that Ackles was only required to tender a 10% fee. I suspect the Democrats have an altnerative candidate they are planning to slate today in the event Ackles withdraws, and they didn't want that person to have to compete against Linehan.
UPDATE: Marion County Democrats re-slated Dr. Kenneth Ackles, notwithstanding today's bombshell disclosure. He ran unopposed.