These responses were submitted by Abbi Sorrells, the Democratic candidate for McLean County coroner. See more candidate responses.
Why do you want to serve as McLean County’s coroner?
The Coroner is a very unique role, one that has the ability to improve the quality of life within the community. My decision to be a candidate for this office is based on this principle and wanting to be a public servant to our community providing professionalism and compassion during death investigations. Community outreach and education is also something that is important for this office.
What would be your top priorities if elected/re-elected?
Being a Coroner has been a lifelong dream of mine. I look forward to using my experience helping families during stressful and traumatic times to help the residents of McLean County as Coroner.
I will be a public servant who is active in her community, so when tragedy strikes they know the woman who is helping them cope with it. To be a more present person, community outreach and education is vital to ensure the healthiest community.
I will manage an office with a positive work environment, while making certain we are efficient and accountable to taxpayers and citizens.
I would like to work with the county board to decrease the salary of the Coroner in order to provide a more adequate salary to the full-time staff.
What would be your approach to building and retaining a qualified staff?
Within a 6 month window, there was a 100% turnover in full-time staff in the Coroner's office. I have listened to the concerns of past staff in the office. The most needed change within the office is a consistently positive work environment. This can be achieved by maintaining a professional work environment within the office. Establishing tasks for each full time staff member and support when needed is essential.
Additionally, the full-time staff in the office have not seen an adequate pay raise in quite some time. While the position of Coroner was getting regular raises, other staff were dealing with salary freezes and having to pay for their own parking while working for the office. If I am elected, I plan to work with the board to decrease my salary in order to pay the staff within the office a more appropriate salary.
These are the two biggest issues I have been approached about and if addressed, can help retain staff. Additionally, if the staff is compensated appropriately, experienced candidates will want to remain in the office.
How proactive should the coroner be with pursuing her own health initiatives, such as suicide prevention and opioid abuse prevention?
This is something that we believe can be done. Not only is the coroner tasked with death investigation, they should be proactive in the community with preventable deaths. Some of my areas of focus initially would be suicide prevention, mental health access, drug dependence resources, and other preventable deaths including heart disease.
Our community is blessed with many resources that address these issues.
The Coroner has the ability to work with these existing organizations and utilizing evidence-based research to decreased these types of death in our community. It is not enough to lecture about these topics, this position has the ability to take real action.
What would be your approach to strengthening or improving working relationships between the coroner’s office and its partners in law enforcement?
After speaking with members of our community that are first responders, there are some areas I would like to improve. First and foremost, the position of Coroner requires a strong working relationship between all of these agencies within our community. The job of the Coroner's office is to determine the manner and cause of death at scenes. It is important to have a good working relationship with law enforcement because they have a job to perform on a scene as well. Having a mutual respect for what the role of each office is tasked with is key in these situations.
The job of coroner requires a lot of multitasking. You need to comfort and serve the families of those who pass away, while supporting law enforcement investigations (when merited), all while providing timely and useful information to the public in a transparent manner. How would you balance those priorities?
Communication with all members, both family and law enforcement, is important in these situations. It is important to understand that law enforcement has an important role in each case. Transparency with families is needed during these times, while also understanding the need to be comforting and willing to listen to the needs of family. These issues are both top priority and it is of equal importance to tend to them.
Being involved with so many traumatic experiences in the emergency department and in flight nursing, this is something that is second nature to me. Being kind and compassionate is necessary in this role.
Unlike many other government bodies, there are set fees (set by state statute) for the public or members of the media to request records from the coroner’s office, such as autopsy reports. Do you think lawmakers should lift those fees or allow discretion on whether to charge them, to remove a barrier to public records access?
I spoke about this issue with members in our community that have had to request records from the Coroner's office. It seems that many times this aspect of their families passing was the most traumatic, time-consuming, and expensive part.
I believe that this should be addressed with the board and other avenues explored. This office is a service that we provide to the community and should not be seen as a revenue stream for these matters.
Many times, families need numerous copies for insurance companies and to settle estates. This is particularly burdensome with families that are living on a fixed income. When needed, I believe that this should be a service that is provided to them without charge.
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