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Commissioners insist decals be placed on the coroner's vehicles

Apr 25, 2012 - By Martin Reed, Staff Writer

The Fremont County Commission is demanding that Coroner Ed McAuslan place decals on his new vehicles to identify his agency's name despite past refusal by the elected official.

Commission chairman Doug Thompson signed a letter on the board's behalf dated April 17 stating the leaders "expect the graphics to be placed on the vehicles at the earliest possible convenient time (next service, etc.)."

"This letter is our final decision to require graphics on Coroner vehicles," states the letter to McAuslan.

"Clearly marked Coroner vehicles do not impede your ability to perform the duties of your Office, and as it is not prohibited by law, therefore allowable," according to the letter.

Ongoing dispute

The commission's action is the latest in the dispute between the coroner and the board over the issue of requiring the decals. The two entities on Jan. 3 had an hour-long discussion on the issue and the related concern of installing flashing lights and sirens on his vehicles.

McAuslan on Monday declined an opportunity to comment on the matter. He said he is meeting with the commission on May 15.

The debate is another recent example of commissioners and elected county government officials butting heads over which entity has greater authority.

Sheriff Skip Hornecker earlier in April used a privately hired attorney to launch the first steps of litigation against commissioners over their refusal to not approve a $70 voucher for two pairs of work gloves for deputies.

Commissioners objected to the purchase because the gloves were not part of the taxpayer-funded uniform provided to deputies and latex protective gloves are readily available to the law enforcement officers.

After a roughly half-hour closed-door executive session on potential litigation on April 10, commissioners in public voiced their ongoing objection to the voucher but agreed to pay for the purchases on the advice of their attorney.

McAuslan's refusal

Similarly, McAuslan earlier this year refused to obey the commission's desire to install the decals to his vehicles. During the discussion with commissioners, he told them the coroner's vehicles fall within his department and responsibility. He also cited law enforcement on the Wind River Indian Reservation recommending against the lettering.

Commissioners in their letter to McAuslan noted county policy that requires all of its vehicles "should be clearly marked as 'Property of Fremont County Government' on the sides of the vehicles and equipment. ... The only vehicles that are exempt from this Policy are those vehicles that are undercover.'"

The county's vehicle maintenance department purchased the decals "following earlier discussion between yourself and our Board regarding the needs for lights and sirens 'that will increase visibility at crash scenes,'" according to the letter.

"Our Board did concede earlier in the year by allowing sirens and light bars on the two new Suburbans. Public awareness regarding vehicles with emergency lights and sirens needs to be properly identified as property of Fremont County Coroner," the letter states.

"We respect your concern that people may get upset when seeing a vehicle, clearly marked County Coroner, at a neighbor's home, etc., but feel that the lights and siren themselves set off an alarm as well," commissioners wrote.

Coroner personnel also wear caps, jackets and other clothing that "clearly" mark them as members of the department mat scenes, according to the letter.

Commissioners cited research by the county attorney's office lawyers concerning laws pertaining to emergency vehicles with flashing lights and sirens.

"At this time, it is their determination that nowhere does the Coroner vehicles qualify as 'emergency' vehicles, which are allowed lights and sirens," according to the letter.

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