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CHICAGO (CBS) – The Cook County Board has decided to slow down on taking away Cook County Medical Examiner Nancy Jones’ job-for-life status over the scandal involving bodies stacked on top of one another at the morgue.
WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser reports the board decided not to vote right away on a measure sponsored by Commissioner John Fritchey (D-12th) that would have allowed the board to have the medical examiner removed by a simple majority vote.
As it stands now, Dr. Nancy Jones’ term as the county’s chief medical examiner lasts until she steps down or is removed for cause.
Fritchey said he didn’t see the move coming when Finance Committee Chairman John Daley (D-11th) had the measure sent to committee, rather than bringing it to a vote on Wednesday.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser reports
The ordinance was introduced in the wake of reports of bodies piling up at the county morgue and complaints of unsanitary conditions as a result of the overcrowding.
Fritchey wasn’t pleased that Daley delayed a vote on his measure to end what essentially amounts to a life term for anyone appointed as the county’s chief medical examiner.
“I’m not going to contest his motion, I am not happy about it, though,” Fritchey said. With that he left the chambers, but reporters caught up with him at the elevators.
He claimed he had a commitment to have the proposal called for a vote on Wednesday, only to see it sent to committee instead.
“It took me by surprise to say the least,” Fritchey said.“It would have sent a proper and necessary signal to the public that we’re taking whatever steps we can as soon as we can.”
Daley said it needed more discussion.
“I believe there’s a number of issues that have to be addressed,” Daley said.
Commissioner Peter Silvestri (R-9th) spoke in favor of Fritchey’s proposal.
“This is really about a process by how someone is appointed and remains in office and I think everybody here can agree that a term of office that continues until someone resigns or is removed for cause is a pretty good term. I mean, that’s just short of being a Supreme Court justice.”
Commissioner Liz Gorman (R-17th) said the issue needs to be carefully considered before the board votes.
“I just don’t want the perception to be a witch hunt,” she said, noting that Fritchey’s measure deals only with Jones’ job status, not directly with the problems at the morgue.
Commissioner Bridgett Gainer (D-10th) said the pictures of bodies piled up at the medical examiner’s office could be misleading.
“I think it should be important to know, while a picture can tell a story, it doesn’t always tell the true story,” Gainer said.
So, before voting on Fritchey’s measure, commissioners will call in Jones to testify before the board to discuss the problems at the morgue.
Meantime, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has outlined plans for big changes at the medical examiner’s office to address the problems at the morgue.
Preckwinkle has said she expects some employees would lose their jobs over the problems at the medical examiner’s office, but Jones will stay on the job, for now.
Meantime, both her office and the county’s inspector general will conduct a top-to-bottom review of operations at the morgue.
Preckwinkle said county administrators have found that, two weeks ago, there were 363 bodies stored in a cooler designed to hold 300. Recent burials have brought the number down to around 300.
Among other measures Preckwinkle announced last week, she said the morgue would have daily inspections of the cooler from now on and new technology will be used to help track down relatives of the dead who are brought to the office in order to speed up the burial process.
Senior management at the morgue will be reorganized and new management positions will be created, according to Preckwinkle.
She also said the morgue will place time limits on how long the bodies of indigent people can be stored in the cooler, as well as how long the morgue will keep remains for families trying to collect enough money for a burial. The county will also put in place new training standards for the staff, as well as a new disciplinary process.
A performance review will be conducted for current employees, which could lead to some firings.