Monday, July 8, 2019

Troubles mount for Winnebago County Coroner Busby as public safety panel readies investigation

Oshkosh Media
Winnebago County Coroner Barry L. Busby appears during a televised 2014 campaign debate.
By Miles Maguire

The county’s Judiciary and Public Safety Committee is launching an investigation into Coroner Barry L. Busby, whose extended out-of-state absences and other erratic behavior have prompted calls for his resignation from the county executive, the sheriff and the chair of the board of supervisors.

“People have the right to know their coroner is not a crook,” said committee Chairman Bill Wingren, who represents District 18 on the east side of Oshkosh. “We need to investigate this.”

The public safety committee went into closed session at its July 8 meeting and discussed  Busby’s recent behavior. Officials have cited their concern about his firing of a longtime chief deputy and an allegation of sexual harassment that prompted an ethics investigation by the Wisconsin Coroners and Medical Examiners Association.

As an elected official, Busby has no administrative supervisor and can only be removed from office by the governor or by voters. Under state law Busby, a Republican who ran unopposed last fall, is beyond the reach of a recall election until January at the earliest, Wingren said.

Busby Busby said Tuesday he had "no idea" what the county’s Judiciary and Public Safety Committee is doing with its investigation of him and his office. His full statement is here.

“This is about absent leadership and poor leadership,” Wingren said. “People deserve unquestioned leadership and the highest level of integrity” in the coroner’s office.

The coroner is responsible for investigating suspicious or unexplained deaths such as murders, suicides and overdoses as well as providing services such as cremation permits and death certificates. Busby earns $72,989 a year and is assisted by three part-time workers: an administrative associate and two deputy coroners.

The deputies are able to perform the duties of the coroner, an arrangement that has allowed Busby to spend extended periods of time out of state while arguing that there has been no disruption in service.

His office investigates about seven deaths a month, typically sending corpses to Milwaukee for autopsies by the medical examiner there. But Busby has put in for travel reimbursement in connection with only a handful of the autopsies through April, which county officials take to mean that he is having his deputies do most of the work.

“We’re looking at this very seriously,” Wingren said. But it is not clear exactly how his committee will proceed. He said he has asked the county’s top lawyer to review “various options.”

The public safety committee went into closed session under two sections of the open meeting law. One provision relates to “medical or personal histories which, if discussed in public, would be likely to have a substantial adverse effect upon the reputation of any person referred to in such histories.”

The other provision allows for “conferring with legal counsel for the governmental body with respect to litigation in which it is likely to become involved.”

Wingren would not disclose the specifics of his committee’s discussion. “I am aware of Barry Busby’s civil rights,” Wingren said.

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