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Posted on Fri. Dec. 21, 2012 - 12:01 am EDT

Council OKs higher salary for coroner

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FORT WAYNE — Third time was a charm for newly elected Allen County Coroner Craig Nelson.

Allen County Council members changed their minds again Thursday and decided to pay Nelson at a higher rate, based on his qualifications.

Nelson, a dentist and forensic odontologist who currently is chief deputy coroner, was elected as Allen County coroner in November, and will take office Jan. 1.

According to a ruling from the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance, counties can decide to pay elected coroners at one of two salary levels depending on whether the coroner is determined to be “licensed to practice as a physician in Indiana.”

In Allen County, a person thought to fit the criteria to practice as a physician would earn $45,821, rather than $30,548 paid to someone who did not meet those specifications

In September, council members agreed unanimously that Nelson’s credentials qualified him for the higher salary, but during the meeting in October, they rescinded that vote.

In the meantime, Council President Larry Brown, R-4th, had asked for legal counsel on the decision.

An opinion dated August 1965 – the most recent one available – from the Indiana Attorney General’s office advised that the term “medical physician” could encompass chiropractors, dentists and veterinarians.

“Basically, this says anyone who studied physical sciences qualifies,” Brown said.

Roy Buskirk, R-at large, said the issue has less to do with the $15,000 difference and more to do with the interpretation of the ruling.

“To me, a dentist is not a medical physician,” Buskirk said.

“We’ve gone back and forth on this,” said Darren Vogt, R-3rd. “I just want to make sure we have a coroner who is doing his job and doing it well, and I think we do have that.”

“We have beaten this to death,” Vogt said. “The statue is vague and all we have to go on is an opinion from the 1960s.”

In the end, the majority of council members voted that Nelson met the criteria to qualify him for the extra $15,273, with Buskirk casting the lone “nay” vote.

Paul Moss, R-at large, was not present for the last regular meeting of the year. Moss did not run for re-election and Bill Brown was elected to take his place in 2013.

Buskirk and Robert Armstrong also won in the election and will retain their at-large seats.

The council will conduct a brief reorganizational meeting after a Dec. 28 ceremony where all newly elected county officials will be sworn in.

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