Saturday, February 16, 2008

Coroner Fails State-Mandated Exam

On the day Marion County Coroner Kenneth Ackles is scheduled to go before Marion County Democratic precinct committeepersons for slating as the party's candidate for re-election to the office, the Star's Brendan O'Shaughnessy drops a big stink bomb in the room. O'Shaughnessy reports that Ackles has failed to pass a basic knowledge exam mandated under a new state law for all coroners. The law requires that the paycheck of any coroner who fails to pass the exam be withheld effective January 1 until the officeholder comes into compliance. Yet, Ackles has continued to draw his paycheck. O'Shaughnessy writes:

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.


Anonymous said...

It shouldn't surprise anyone that he couldn't pass a rudimentary test. If you have ever heard him speak you would know why! Until the lazy non-voting public gets off their arses and pays attention to who is running for public office, we deserve what we get.

Anonymous said...

O'Shaughnessy's story probably did not mention John Linehan attempting to run for the office because Linehan himself was a target of the Prosecutor's Office actual investigation of thefts at the Coroner's Office, it was Ackles and his assitant Alfie Ballew's poor managment of the office that allowed theft from dead people to occur in the first place...

Anonymous said...

I was at slating today. I did not vote for "Dr." Ackles, even though he was unopposed.

How my party's leadership could not drum up a qualified candidate by today is a sorry statement on the party's status.

Ackles is a sorry old gasbag. Ever heard him speak? He's testy, arrogant and not the brightest bulb in the chandelier.

The word I'm dancing around is "embarrassment."

The party can push that slate at me all they want. I will vote for Dr. Pless in the fall. God forbid I need the coroner's office anytime soon, but if and when I do, I want at least bare-bones competence. It does not exist now.

Anonymous said...

"Bones" Ackles is an ignorant man, who I would not expect to be able to perform at the level of a 6th grader.

If he failed a mandatory state exam, then he should forfeit all pay as stated in law.

Anonymous said...

Let's see: Ackles cost this city a 6-figure judgment in a law suit wherein a court determined he was using racist employment practices. Now we know he can't pass the required exam to hold his office....

Anonymous said...

This is what happens when democrats are in charge. Over and over and over and over.

Anonymous said...

I was in the Coroner's training class with Ackles back in the fall of 2005. He was rarely on time for the sessions, took numerous phone calls while experts were giving lectures, and was observed nodding off every day. The exam is pretty straightforward, with some complex sections that require you actually pay attention and read the material. Certainly an actual physician could pass it without difficulty, obviously a chiropractor of Ackles type needs to do a little extra work. But 2 1/2 years is nuts to not yet pass this exam. Another fine example of party politics trumping the good of the community.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who knows this man should not be surprised that he failed the exam. I'd fail a test, too, if I slept through the training course. It also helps to be literate.

The only way to avoid situations like this to to be an educated voter. Let's try and not let it happen again.

Gary R. Welsh said...

anon 12:30, John Linehan was cleared of ghost employment charges which were falsely leveled against him and he was never a suspect in the theft case. He was the one who discovered it and reported it to police.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that clarification, Gary.

I wonder if Linehan will run in the primary, since the party apparently stifled his chance at slating? If another candidate doesn't beat Ackles in May, I will be voting for a Republican for the first time in 25 years.