Pulaski County Chief Deputy Coroner’s Resignation Leads to Heated Wage Discussion

The Pulaski County Coroner’s Office is facing a staffing shortage, following the resignation of the chief deputy. Coroner John Behny told the county council last week that his lone deputy Jon Frain had “had enough.” “I not only lost my chief deputy,” he said. “I also lost a facility for which to check the bodies over and do our autopsies and so forth. I’ve lost all of that. I’ve lost storage of our files. I’ve actually gone backwards. I’ve gone from having an office. I got displaced. I have nothing. Our building isn’t going to be ready for some time.”

At the center of the issue is the chief deputy’s pay rate. Based on last week’s discussion, the Coroner’s Office had $8,000 budgeted for a chief deputy in 2018. But less than a quarter of that would ever make it to Frain, since he was paid a monthly rate of less than $150. Behny requested that he be allowed to pay Frain the full $8,000 for his services this year and that the chief deputy’s pay level be kept at $8,000 going forward.

Behny felt that pay would be justified by the amount of work the Coroner’s Office does. “We are on-call 24/7/365,” he said. “You’ve heard this before. We have investigated 40 percent of the deaths over the last two years, which is significantly higher than the other counties. I’ve got those numbers to prove it. We’ve had eight homicides in 18 months.”

The discussion become increasingly heated as Council President Jay Sullivan tried to explain the distinction between the amount of money budgeted for a position and the actual wage. That led to an exchange involving Behny, Frain, and council member Mike Tiede, among others.

Toward the end of the council’s regular meeting, Sullivan called on members to make a decision. He noted that Frain had expressed interest in rejoining the Coroner’s Office, if his conditions are met, and that Behny would be in a bind without a deputy.

But council member Linda Powers had some concerns about raising the pay rate. “Then we set a precedent for everybody quitting until we give them what they want,” she said. “I mean, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. We just keep setting precedents and precedents.” Powers also wanted the Coroner’s Office to keep more detailed logs of its hours.

While a few council members agreed that the chief deputy should get more money, they weren’t ready to take any formal action last week.