A Florida pathologist said Tuesday he knows what he's getting into as he takes over the politically charged position of running the troubled Cook County morgue.
Dr. Stephen Cina breezed through his County Board confirmation hearing, saying he's looking forward to the challenges of professionalizing the morgue. He replaces Dr. Nancy Jones, who resigned amid criticism over employee complaints that bodies were stacking up in the morgue's cooler and for various administrative problems at the West Side facility.
Cina served as deputy medical examiner in Broward County, Fla., before taking a position with the University of Miami Tissue Bank last year. "Florida politics is not trivial, so I have been exposed to that," Cina said. "Cook County is legendary."
Some commissioners complained that board President Toni Preckwinkle sprung her choice for medical examiner on them this month, though only Commissioner John Fritchey, D-Chicago, voted against Cina's appointment.
Cina will be getting added job security and resources from the county to help him. He will have the position for at least five years thanks to a recent change to county statute championed by Preckwinkle giving all new hires as medical examiner a full term rather than simply the remainder of their predecessor's term.
And at $300,000 a year, he'll make $68,000 more than Jones did.
Cina said the full term is important because it will take that long to get the office up to snuff. And he pointed out that $300,000 is only about 10 percent more than the $275,000 he was making at the tissue bank.
When announcing Cina's nomination, Preckwinkle said the county would hire three pathologists beyond the 12 in the office's budget. But Cina said Tuesday that while a staff of 15 or 16 people performing autopsies would be ideal, he has not asked for any new positions to be created this year. That's a longer-term goal, he said.
Cina told commissioners he expects to spend at least 60 hours a week on his new duties and will spend no more than about eight hours each week on an outside consulting business where he commands $400 an hour.
But Commissioner Robert Steele, D-Chicago, nonetheless urged Cina ó who has appeared on television and in magazines in recent years to comment on high-profile death investigations ó to keep his focus on his new duties. Steele referred to Michael Baden, a former New York City medical examiner who has gone on to have a high-profile TV career.
"The one thing I'm not looking forward to is Dr. Baden, a gentleman who's all over the country, all over every TV show, sharing his opinions on autopsies and the death of individuals around the country," Steele said. "So I hope you come here with a great zest to work here in Cook County."
Speaking to reporters after the hearing, Cina said he has his priorities straight. "I've turned down (talk show host) Nancy Grace probably about 20 times over the course of my career in Broward County," he said. "I don't like to be in the media."