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Nominee to run Cook County morgue: ‘I cannot do this alone’

Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Chicago Sun-Times
by LISA DONOVAN

For the first time since Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle nominated him for the job of chief medical examiner, Dr. Stephen Cina publicly told county commissioners — in broad strokes and even a few platitudes — about why he wants become the boss in an office that’s been under fire.

“I love Chicago and Cook County and I really love a challenge,” Cina told commissioners after briefly introducing himself, including telling of his work at the University of Miami Tissue Bank and his previous work as a deputy chief medical examiner in Ft. Lauderdale.

He said in that post, where he served until 2011, he said he worked with the Broward County board on budgets, served as a liaison between law enforcement and funeral homes and even handled media calls.

He said that while he likes a challenge, he said “I cannot do this alone.”

Dr. Cina said some of the equipment and technology are dated but under his leadership will be updated over time. He said the goal of  the office — conducting death investigations ranging from homicides to unattended deaths — can be and should be done in a “safe and collegial” working environment.

County commissioners were preparing to ask him questions once the public comments portion of the meeting wrapped up. 

Cina is expected to be grilled on a range of issues during the afternoon confirmation hearing.

Members of the county board say they’re concerned about Cina’s frequent job changes, his demand for a 30 percent raise — to $300,000 — over the salary paid to Dr. Nancy Jones as medical examiner, his plans for additional staffing and the consulting firm runs as a side business.

Earlier this month, Preckwinkle nominated Cina after he won the support of Dr. Edmund Donoghue, who was medical examiner before Jones.

Cina has had a 20-plus year career in Texas, Colorado, Wyoming and Florida. He is associate medical director at the University of Miami Tissue Bank.

From 2007 to 2011, he was deputy chief medical examiner in Broward County, Fla. Earlier this year, he lost a bid for the top job at the Fort Lauderdale office.

The confirmation hearing is set for noon Tuesday.

Cina, 47, has been meeting privately with commissioners in recent weeks, making his case for their confirmation.

After his nomination was announced, Cina said he had some “big ideas” and that “I am aware of the challenges, but nothing is insurmountable.” Since then, he has declined to make any further public comments or do interviews.

Jones is retiring Aug. 1; Cina’s start date hasn’t been set yet. The county board on Tuesday approved the appointment of Dr. Ponni Arunkumar, who has worked at the county morgue since 2004, as interim chief medical examiner until Cina begins. Currently an assistant medical examiner, Dr. Arunkumar performs autopsies and other duties involved in death investigations. As a forensic pathologist, she has all the certifications that make her eligible to be a chief M.E., according to a Preckwinkle spokesperson.

The county morgue has been under fire since January, when the Chicago Sun-Times revealed bodies were piling up at the West Side facility and staffers were complaining about the stench and bodily fluids pooling on the floor. That triggered a state labor department investigation.

Jone ended up announcing her retirement, and her top deputy was forced to resign.



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