Walla Walla County Coroner Frank Brown is a polarizing public official.
While he does have some staunch supporters, many others are very critical of his approach and job performance. This includes Walla Walla's police chief and fire chief and the county sheriff.
Given the serious and troubling complaints against Brown, as well as the fractured relationship with the top emergency services officials in this area, Brown's decision not to seek re-election is best.
The way Brown views his job and performs those duties appears to be unnecessarily overzealous. Brown simply does not need to investigate every death in the county nor does the law mandate he do so. Brown's mandate is to oversee the investigation of deaths where the cause is not clear.
RCW 68.50.010 says: A coroner has "jurisdiction of bodies of all deceased persons who come to their death suddenly when in apparent good health without medical attendance within the thirty-six hours preceding death; or where the circumstances of death indicate death was caused by unnatural or unlawful means; or where death occurs under suspicious circumstances."
The RCW goes on to cite many other circumstances in which the coroner should investigate, none of which would be considered natural causes. Yet, Brown has said he must investigate every death. That practice can be overly intrusive and upsetting for the family of someone who obviously died of a terminal illness.
Brown has been accused of being uncooperative and confrontational with law enforcement officers. These accusations have merit.
The three who brought their concerns to the Walla Walla County commissioners -- Police Chief Chuck Fulton, Sheriff Mike Humphreys and Fire Chief Terry Thomas -- are men of integrity with long records of excellence in their jobs.
Humphreys and Fulton said among the most pressing issues were flawed handling of blood and other biological samples and failing to provide toxicology and autopsy reports even after repeated requests.
"We should be working together. We've tried to resolve the issue, but we've gotten nowhere," Humphreys said.
At this point, it seems the differences between law enforcement officials and Brown are so deep they might hinder death investigations between now and when Brown leaves office in January.
Brown should consider resigning his position now.
Four people are running for coroner -- Virginia M. Romine of Prescott; Ken Hall of Waitsburg; and Richard Greenwood and Jim Schmerer, both of Walla Walla.
It's clear the Coroner's Office will be moving in a new direction. The sooner that occurs the better it will be for the citizens of Walla Walla County.