Coroner voices grievances with County Commission including pay, lack of family time, deputy position

By Buck Collier, Special Correspondent
Posted 1/27/21

HERMANN — Less than a month into the job, Gasconade County Coroner Jeff Arnold last week filed a list of concerns with the County Commission ranging from what he sees as low pay to the need for …

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Coroner voices grievances with County Commission including pay, lack of family time, deputy position

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HERMANN — Less than a month into the job, Gasconade County Coroner Jeff Arnold last week filed a list of concerns with the County Commission ranging from what he sees as low pay to the need for more money for a deputy coroner to not having time off to spend time with his family or to work another job to supplement his county government paycheck.

But rather than getting more pay for his position, a larger allowance for a deputy coroner or paid time off to allow family vacations, Arnold did receive “a little recognition” publicly for his efforts to set up the office and save taxpayer dollars.

Arnold met with the Commission Thursday morning to discuss the points he made in a two-page letter emailed to the county administrators prior to the weekly session. Northern District Associate Commissioner Jim Holland, R-Hermann, said he did not receive the email and, after reading a hard copy of the letter, had some of the harshest responses to Arnold’s points — including saying he was prepared that day to establish a Coroner’s Office in Swiss at the Gasconade County Sheriff’s Department building. The Commission late last year considered remodeling a portion of that building for the incoming coroner, but considering the limited space available, agreed to allow Arnold to operate out of his Owensville home.

Arnold, who took office Jan. 1, has previously discussed with the Commission his out-of-pocket expenses for preparing his home to house the Coroner’s Office.

“I am probably the only county official that has lost money since Jan. 1,” Arnold said in the letter. I am literally in the hole being the county coroner. I don’t know of many other county officials that would buy for their elected office out of their own pocket and not be reimbursed.”

Presiding Commissioner Larry Miskel, R-Hermann, quickly reminded Arnold that personal expenses related to the job are reimbursed in a regularly scheduled manner.

Arnold also raised an issue not previously touched on during discussions with the administrative panel: Rent for using his home as the Coroner’s Office. 

“I also opened up my home as a place for you to put my office,” he wrote in the letter. “I did not ask for rent nor did you offer to pay rent. I believe (new Public Administrator) Kelly (Brehe-Thomas) has to pay rent to the city of Hermann for her office. I also am providing Internet…and electric, again you did not offer to pay. Again, I am going in the hole to  help save the county money.”

“We appreciate you trying to save the county money,” Miskel said.

But Holland had a sharper response regarding the location of the Coroner’s Office. “We need to look at moving your office to Swiss,” he said.

“I don’t think you want to do that,” Arnold replied, noting that he checks his fax machine at least four times daily for notifications of deaths in the nursing homes. He added there have been “a lot” of deaths thus far this year. “With that being said, had my office been moved to Swiss I would be driving 192 miles a day. That is 70,080 miles a year. That is 7,786 gallons of gas. That is $19,466 worth of fuel. I feel good about that kind of money being saved by the office being at my house but now I feel like I’m being taken advantage of.”

Indeed, Arnold said he thinks the Coroner’s Office historically has ranked low among the various county government agencies with policymakers. 

“I understand you all have multiple county offices to look over, but you have to understand that the Coroner’s Office has been the red-headed stepchild of all county offices. You as the commissioners and the commissioners before you just expected (former Coroner) Ben (Grosse) and Landon Grosse to just make it work and they did, but they also ran a hugely successful funeral home business,” Arnold said in the letter. “They were able to buy and or provide supplies, gas, insurance, electric, transport vehicle, etc. Everyone got spoiled over the past few decades but now things have changed.”

The new coroner also said he was aware that the job didn’t come with a large paycheck — his salary is budgeted at $17,000. 

“I, however, did not realize that I would never get a day off or that I would never be able to take a family vacation,” Arnold said in the letter. “I also did not understand that I would not be allowed off to work a part-time job to supplement my income,” he added.

Miskel wasn’t sympathetic to Arnold’s argument that more money is needed for a deputy coroner, who could fill in while Arnold is spending time with his family. The proposed budget for the Coroner’s Office contains $3,000 for a deputy coroner. 

Arnold in his letter said that amount “is not sufficient” for a deputy coroner. 

Rather, he proposed a deputy be paid $50 for being on call for a 12-hour period four times a month, which would amount to $2,400 — $600 less than was is budgeted.

“I have come to the conclusion that I will have to pay the deputy coroner cash out of my own pocket if I want time off,” Arnold wrote. 

“I will have to pay him to cover me so I can have some family time, take a vacation or to work somewhere to supplement my income. I was hoping for at least four days off a month because everyone deserves that,” he said in the letter.

“From my perspective as a presiding commissioner, you’re an elected official,” Miskel told Arnold Thursday morning. “You’ve got requirements,” he said, adding that all elected officials take time off for family time or vacation. But, Miskel said, “to have someone on salary while you’re on family time,  I can’t support it. I have a real problem to finance your family time…with tax dollars.”

Southern District Associate Commissioner Jerry Lairmore, R-Owensville, said all elected county government officials confront the same thing: “As elected officials, we’re on the job 24/7,” Lairmore said. “I still get calls when I’m on vacation.”

As for the need for more money for a deputy, Lairmore said officials won’t know whether such a need exists for a while.

“We won’t know that ‘til next budget year,” he said, noting that the Commission worked with Arnold to provide as much money to the position as it felt it could.

“I appreciate what you’ve done, but I feel we have worked with you on the budget. I think we did the best we can, but we won’t know until the year’s up.”

Arnold voiced appreciation, also, but offered a caution. “I appreciate everything you guys have done for the budget…but my generosity can only go so far,” he said.

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