Crawford County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday night to hire an attorney for Coroner Allen ONeal, who plans to sue them.
A long-running fight over the coroner jobs perks and requirements, including questions of whether the coroner was just joking about wanting a Cadillac, is likely to soon lead to a lawsuit, ONeal said Wednesday.
Ive done everything I can do. Ive asked them, and Ive begged them, said ONeal, who has been the countys coroner for about 24 years.
ONeal said the biggest part of his fight is over the use of a car. Hes got two major reasons not to use his own personal vehicle to get to a scene, he said. The immediate problem is his insurance might not cover an accident because the insurance company considers his car to be an emergency vehicle at that point. The other is more personal.
I dont know what all I come in contact with when I do my job, and Im carrying that back to my personal vehicle that my grandchildren ride in, he said.
On Thursday, Crawford County commissioners called a meeting for 4 p.m. Wednesday to discuss threatened litigation and appoint an independent counsel. The official county attorney represents both the commission and the coroner, so he has a conflict of interest in representing either side in litigation.
Commission Chairman Dean Fripp said ONeal changes his standards.
Its nothing that weve offered him thats been good enough. He said laughingly the other day he wanted a Caddy, Fripp said.
ONeal said the talk of a Cadillac was a joke, after he was interrupted three times: I told them if they wouldnt listen to me and tell them what I needed, to just get me a Cadillac.
He said his standards are lower, and he pictures something like a used investigators car, big enough to carry his work gear and clean enough for the purpose.
Anything I can use to the point that if I have a distraught loved one on the side of the road I can set them down in the vehicle and console them and not get them dirty, he said.
But the fight has also covered other expenses, such as whether the county has offered ONeal sufficient office space, should be paying for a fax line at his house and needs to give him a better computer.
A 2001 state law says Crawford County needs to pay the necessary operating expenses of the coroners office ... as may be reasonably required to do the job. A judge may soon determine what that means. ONeal and the county commissioners have different views.
Hes asked for an office. Hes asked for a lot of different things that weve given him, Fripp said. Nothing that weve done has been good enough. One of the commissioners, Paul Chapman, said the other night that trying to satisfy him was like trying to hit a moving target. I dont know anything else other than to let him do what hes got to do.
ONeal said commissioners are nitpicking in their fight with him but hurting other people.
Whats going on is not hurting me personally, he said. Its hurting the folks that have got loved ones that have passed away. And thats my whole concern. Thats the reason I do the job that I do.
To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.