Monday, August 12, 2019

Winnebago County Coroner Busby censured, issued vote of no confidence by committee of supervisors

Photo by Miles Maguire

Winnebago County Coroner Barry Busby, far right, and members of his staff await committee censure vote.
By Miles Maguire
The county’s Judiciary and Public Safety Committee voted unanimously Monday to censure Coroner Barry Busby and to put on record its lack of confidence in his job performance.

The censure resolution references Busby’s frequent travels out of state, added costs to taxpayers because of his absences and sexual harassment complaints “some of which Mr. Busby does not deny.” The resolution next goes to the full Board of Supervisors and would be sent to Gov. Tony Evers, who has the power to remove Busby from office under the state constitution.

Busby attended the committee meeting along with members of his staff, but he was not on the agenda and did not speak. After the vote he denounced the action and said the committee members were “being fed a lot of” excrement. “The truth will come out, and the people who are smearing will be dealt with accordingly.”

The vote came after the panel heard testimony from a former deputy coroner, Donna Francart. Francart was fired by Busby after filing a sexual harassment complaint that was not upheld but was given enough weight by county officials that they made arrangements to keep the two of them from meeting face to face.

Francart added a new area of concern, alleging that Busby had encouraged funeral home owners to push for organ donations as a way of funneling commissions to a Busby relative who was working for a tissue bank. 

Committee members said they had heard similar stories before. Francart’s testimony “will not be ignored,” said committee chair Bill Wingren.

The committee went behind closed doors for an hour before voting on the no confidence motion.

Previously the committee has held at least two closed-door meetings on Busby, who was re-elected last November.  Since then he has spent long periods of time out of state, fired his top deputy and been the subject of  a sexual harassment investigation by the Wisconsin Coroners and Medical Examiners Association.

The former chief deputy coroner has accused of Busby of misusing county resources by applying travel funds to training conferences but then skipping the sessions to play golf. The former deputy, Chris Shea, also said Busby treated the office administrator “as his own personal assistant for countless hours” of private business, including dealing with family members, handling paperwork and arranging personal travel.

The coroner, a Republican, has served in that office for 22 years and earns an annual salary of $72,989. He oversees a budget of slightly more than $500,000 and is assisted by three part-time workers: an administrative associate and two deputy coroners. A website biography says Busby worked in the Oshkosh Police Department for 27 years and retired as a sergeant.

Busby, 72, has enjoyed high regard among voters and taken a high profile role in initiatives to address suicide and drug overdoses. But it has apparently been an open secret in certain circles that the coroner is frequently away from the office and is known for making inappropriate contact with women.

“This investigation is continuing” Wingren said, adding that a private attorney has been hired to carry out the probe of Busby’s conduct. It was the private attorney who heard Busby’s acknowledgement of sexual harassment, Wingren said.

The resolution references the importance of high ethical standards, state laws that prohibit public officials from using their office for personal gain and the fact that the coroner would step in to fill the role of the sheriff and undersheriff if they were away from the county.

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