Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has appointed a Florida pathologist to become the new medical examiner, giving him a hefty raise, a longer term in office and additional staff to come take over the troubled county morgue.
Dr. Stephen Cina will replace Dr. Nancy Jones, whose resignation is effective at month's end. Jones faced criticism over employee complaints that bodies were stacking up in the morgue's cooler and for various administrative problems at the West Side facility.
Preckwinkle said Cina, currently associate medical director and chief administrative officer of the University of Miami Tissue Bank, has the skills both as a doctor and an administrator to right the ship.
"He's been, in addition to his work in the medical examiner field, a distinguished medical researcher," Preckwinkle said. "He's nationally respected as a forensic pathologist, and he has long been recognized as a leader in his profession. He's capable of providing the highest level of leadership and direction to our medical examiner's office, and that, of course, is what we desperately need."
Cina will make $300,000 in his new post — $68,000 per year more than what Jones was paid. He will be allowed to continue to do outside consulting work — he commands $400 an hour — though officials said he will need to comply with county rules and make sure it does not interfere with his official duties. Jones also did some outside paid work.
In addition to filling five vacant positions at the morgue, Preckwinkle said the county has agreed to Cina's request to create three new medical positions there. It isn't clear how much the new staff will be paid or how the cash-strapped county will pay for those positions.
Commissioners voted Tuesday to change the ordinance governing the hiring of new medical examiners so that Cina will serve a full five-year term before he again needs board approval to stay in the post, rather than merely completing the remainder of Jones' term.
"He's a professional, and he wanted to be sure he would have the time that he needs to professionalize our operations there," Preckwinkle said.
The County Board is expected to approve Cina's appointment at its July 24 meeting.
Cina served as deputy chief medical examiner in Broward County, Fla., population 1.8 million, before taking the position at the Tissue Bank.
Reached by phone Tuesday, Cina declined to discuss why he wants the job and why he believes the county needs to hire additional staff at the morgue, referring all questions to Preckwinkle's office until his confirmation is official.
Preckwinkle shook up the medical examiner's office last month, replacing top morgue administrator Kimberly Jackson with longtime state Public Health Department supervisor Daryl Jackson. The first-term board president also announced Jones' resignation.
With Preckwinkle about to get her own nominee with additional resources and a higher salary, Commissioner John Fritchey pointed out that she will own the morgue, for better or worse.
"A $300,000-a-year job with a five-year guarantee and additional staffing is going to put the burden squarely on him to show he's worth it and can do the job," said Fritchey, D-Chicago. "The president is going to need to realize that if there are any problems that emanate from her medical examiner, she will not be able to point the finger at past administrations."
Some commissioners weren't happy that Preckwinkle announced Cina's hiring without notifying them first.
Robin Kelly, Preckwinkle's chief administrative officer, said Cina approached the county to express interest in the position and is well aware of the recent problems at the morgue, which began to come to light in January when employees complained that there were too many bodies in the cooler.
"There's not that many pathologists in the United States, and they all talk to each other," Kelly said. "So he knows what he is walking into, and if approved by the board, he looks forward to it."