COVINGTON — Newton County’s new coroner presented a litany of complaints to the Board of Commissioners at the board’s Jan. 19 meeting, claiming that the county has not provided the supplies, equipment and funding she needs to do her job.
At one point, during discussion of her request for more office space for her and her staff, Coroner Dorothea Bailey-Butts held up a manila envelope and warned commissioners’ about its contents.
“I didn’t create this fiasco,” said Bailey-Butts. “This fiasco has been here 17 years, and if I open up this envelope, I will shut Covington down, you understand me?”
The Citizen has filed an Open Records Act request for the documents contained in the envelope; however, according to county officials, Bailey-Butts maintains that they are her personal property and has refused to provide them. Bailey-Butts did not immediately return a reporter’s calls to her cell phone and the Coroners Office.
Bailey-Butts, who took office Jan. 1, asked commissioners for funding — for training and supplies — and complained about antiquated or inoperable equipment. She said she had worked 456 hours in the first 19 days of the month — which would mean she worked 24 hours each day — and that she had not been able to pay an employee she has hired. She also asked for larger office space for her and a staff of seven deputy coroners she said she intends to have on call. She said the larger space is needed so she can work toward accreditation for the office. The coroner’s office is currently housed at the Historic Courthouse.
The coroner initially asked for $3,500 for training for her and her staff and $5,500 for supplies. However, after hearing her list of complaints, District 5 Commissioner Ronnie Cowan said that would not be enough to get her office up and running. He said it would take closer to $50,000 to meet the needs she outlined.
Discussion of Bailey-Butts’ request for larger office space ensued, and Cowan suggested they explore using space at the former R.L. Cousins School; County Manager Lloyd Kerr said there likely is suitable space there that had been used by the Emergency Management Agency.
District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson balked at that suggestion, saying there are other plans in the works for Cousins. Henderson is proposing that the county issue $9 million in bonds for the renovation of that facility.
Henderson’s resistance apparently angered Bailey-Butts, who then displayed the manila envelope and cautioned commissioners about its contents.
“I think that everything they have thrown on the table you are not going to like it when it comes to the coroner,” she said to Henderson. “I’m here for the citizens of Newton County. I’m here for the next four years, and at the end of the day, I feel like it’s for the duration until I no longer want to hold this position.”
Chairman Marcello Banes encouraged commissioners to bring the discussion to a close, and Cowan made a motion to transfer up to $50,000 to the coroner’s budget until July 1. Henderson seconded the motion, which passed 4-1, with District 1 Commissioner Stan Edwards opposed.
On Thursday, County Manager Kerr said Bailey-Butts has funding in her budget for training and supplies so it was unclear why she was asking for funds from the BOC. The fiscal year 2021 budget for the Coroner’s Office is $107,120.
Kerr said the county’s Finance Department had worked with Bailey-Butts to explain her budget and the purchasing process. He said the county has accounts with Amazon and Office Depot where she could have bought supplies. He said she was also given a key for the gas pump at public works where she can get fuel any time of the day or night.
“She’s not submitted anything for reimbursement, and she could do that if she has bought things,” said Kerr. “We certainly would be happy to reimburse her.”
He also said she had not submitted any invoices to be paid.
“We can’t pay what we don’t know about,” he said.
As for the employee Bailey-Butts said has not been paid, Kerr said the Coroner’s Office should have contract workers rather than employees. He said contract workers are required to complete paperwork in order to be added to the county’s vendor list as they are considered individual contractors.
“That (paperwork) was not completed,” he said.
The coroner position in Georgia is generally considered to be a part-time job, although coroners or their deputies are on call at all times. Compensation for the Newton County coroner totals $35,000 annually — $1,000 from the state and $34,000 from the county. Deputies are paid on a per-call basis.
Bailey-Butts succeeds coroner Tommy Davis, who served three terms in the office and several years as a deputy coroner prior to that. Kerr said Davis had one deputy coroner on contract and another part-time contractor for administrative work.
Georgia coroners do not conduct autopsies or other scientific procedures. Autopsies in Newton County deaths are conducted by the Medical Examiner’s Office of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
Coroners do oversee evidence collection at death scenes, and they decide whether to request autopsies by the medical examiner.
The function of the Coroner’s Office is to determine cause, manner and circumstance of death under the Georgia Death Investigation Act.
The coroner is required to investigate when a person dies:
♦ as a result of violence
♦ by suicide or casualty
♦ suddenly when in apparent good health
♦ when unattended by a physician
♦ in any suspicious or unusual manner, with particular attention to those persons 17 years of age and under
♦ after bi♦ rth but before seven years of age if the death is unexpected or unexplained
♦ as a result of an execution carried out pursuant to the death penalty
♦ when an inmate of a state hospital or a state, county, or city penal institution
♦ after having been admitted to a hospital in an unconscious state and without regaining consciousness within 24 hours of admission.