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New coroner may be a 'physician' after all

County Council reconsidering $15,000 pay cut for dentist Craig Nelson

Tuesday, December 4, 2012 - 12:01 am

Coroner-elect Craig Nelson won't take office until Jan. 1, but he may already be in for a $15,000-a-year raise.

“We should have had (our) attorney do the leg work on this before we talked about it last time,” Allen County Council President Larry Brown said in response to Deputy Coroner Mike Burris' request that Council reconsider its October ruling that as a dentist Nelson does not qualify as a physician under state law and as a result should earn $30,500 instead of the $45,800 earned by present coroner John Brandenberger, M.D.

Brown noted that two opinions written by the Indiana Attorney General's office in the 1960s indicate that dentists are covered by the state statute that mandates a salary one and one-half times higher for coroners who are physicians than for those who are not. Chiropractors, podiatrists, osteopaths and veterinarians also qualify, the opinions stated.

In an e-mail to other Council members last week, Brown said he would ask Council's attorney – “Tom Hardin, I believe” -- to research the matter. But Brown said he ultimately referred the issue to chief county attorney William Fishering – a decision Brown said had nothing to do with Councilman Paul Moss' contention that, as Council's attorney, Hardin should not have participated in the County Ethics Commission's investigation of a conflict-of-interest complain against Moss.

If Fishering decides Nelson should receive the higher salary, Council will consider the issue later this month, Brown said. Council had originally decided to pay Nelson the higher salary but changed its after some questioned the decision on the basis of the state law.

After his salary was reduced in October, Nelson told The News-Sentinel he was disappointed but still wanted the job, which he won by defeating Democrat Norman Knuth in November.

Brandenberger's predecessor, Phillip O'Shaughnessy, was also a dentist – but received the physician's salary.