In an ideal world, Lake County's coroner would be appointed by a county executive rather than elected. Why elect someone who doesn't make policy? That's the rationale wisely used by the Kernan-Shepard Commission in recommending major changes in the structure of county government.
This is not an ideal world, however. That reform has not yet taken place. So Lake County Democrats will hire the next coroner.
Five Democrats are vying for the right to face Republican Andy Koultourides in November in the Lake County coroner contest. Each of the five Democrats is approaching the coroner's office from a different angle.
George Deliopoulos is an investigator in that office now and wants to continue working in the field. Deliopoulos said he hasn't seen a pay raise in 15 years, which serves as both a reason for him to run for coroner and as a cautionary tale for anyone eager for a job in the public sector.
Deliopoulos, a former police officer, sees the coroner's office from a law enforcement lens. He wants to get access to county crime data through the Spillman reporting system and wants to participate on the major crimes task force.
Lana Kaiser, a chiropractor, said, "I've always wanted to run for coroner." It's an ambition not many young people share. Kaiser is still researching the details of the coroner's office operations but wants to work with schools, mental health agencies and others on issues like suicide and drugs.
Merrilee Frey is a forensic nurse examiner, having completed a 40-hour course in addition to her extensive nursing education. Frey wants to work with the county's child fatality review team to reduce the number of children who die as a result of abuse or neglect.
Daniel Bade, a dentist who has done work at the Lake County Jail as well as his private practice, said, "My kids are grown. I need a new challenge."
Bade brings a businessman's perspective to the office, looking for ways to improve customer service so grieving family members are treated well while exploring ways to reduce the budget.
Darryl Fortson, a medical doctor, deals with the effects of substance abuse in his private practice. He wants to use the platform of the coroner's office to advance the cause of fighting substance abuse.
"Northwest Indiana is challenged by the expectation that celebration equals intoxication," he said, which leads to alcohol-related deaths. Drug-related deaths include not just overdoses but violence as well. "Gangs, they're basically a guild for the drug trades," Fortson said.
Fortson wants to start a "16 is Sweet" program to encourage parents to drug-test kids to nip the use of drugs in the bud.
"I see the coroner's office as a public health office for the living," Fortson said.
As we analyze the options for this office, appointing a medical professional, either a dentist or a medical doctor, makes sense to us. It is, after all, a final extension of the health care field.
We are impressed by Fortson's focus on epidemiology to reduce the death rate for young people, but we also admire Bade's customer-oriented focus. Either candidate would be a good choice for the Democratic nomination.
We endorse both Bade and Fortson for coroner.