FORT WAYNE – Both candidates for Allen County coroner have experience as deputy coroners.
County Deputy Coroner Craig Nelson beat out his Republican primary opponent in May by garnering almost 77 percent of the votes.
He now faces Democratic challenger Norman Knuth in the Nov. 6 general election. Knuth is a longtime funeral director who once was deputy coroner in Clay County.
Incumbent Dr. E. Jon Brandenberger is not eligible to run for another term because of term limits.
The four-year term pays an annual salary of $45,821 or $30,548, depending on credentials, plus health insurance and retirement benefits. Although three cars are assigned to employees of the coroner’s office, none are assigned to the coroner.
Nelson said the coroner’s office is one of the best in the state, with a well-trained staff.
I would not change anything but would strive to maintain the department as is, he said.
Nelson has been a dentist for 45 years and maintains a part-time practice in LaGrange. A forensic odontologist, Nelson has for years been called on to conduct dental identifications throughout 15 counties in northeast Indiana.
In addition to identification through dental records, Nelson also investigates bite-mark evidence in cases of abuse and is a consultant for the Sexual Assault Treatment Center. He also is the dental team leader of the portable morgue unit for the Indiana Mortuary Emergency Response Team, a division of the Indiana Department of Homeland Security.
If elected, Nelson’s pay could be affected by an Allen County Council decision this month.
Indiana law allows for the county fiscal body to set compensation for the elected position based on whether the coroner is licensed to practice as a physician in Indiana.
The current salary ordinance includes two coroner salaries, and the difference between the two is $15,273, County Auditor Tera Klutz said.
The council agreed unanimously in September that Nelson’s credentials fit the specifications for the higher salary, but at a later meeting, some council members questioned their earlier decision.
The matter is on the agenda for the council’s Oct. 18 meeting.
Nelson said he would not consider himself licensed to practice as a physician but noted that the late Phillip O’Shaughnessy was also a dentist who specialized in forensic investigations. O’Shaughnessy was Allen County coroner from 1985 until 1993 and from 1997 until his death in 2001.
According to Klutz, O’Shaughnessy was paid at the higher level at the time of his death.
I can only hope they would treat me the same, since Dr. O’Shaughnessy and I have the same credentials, Nelson said.
Knuth is a funeral director and embalmer for Dignity Memorial Group in Fort Wayne. Before that, he was employed by C.M. Sloan & Sons Funeral Home for 28 years, 13 of those as manager. He also managed two funeral homes in Clay County.
The pay issue will not affect Knuth.
Born and raised in Fort Wayne, Knuth ran for coroner in 1996, lost and moved to Brazil, Ind., in 2000 to help a friend operate a group of funeral homes. While there, Knuth was appointed to deputy coroner of Clay County in 2003 and attended Indiana coroner training classes. He served about a year before moving back to Fort Wayne in 2004.
Knuth said he has always been interested in the coroner’s position, and now that he is working part time, he would have more time to dedicate to the coroner’s office.
If elected, he would become an investigator, which he said would be an asset to the office.
I have more than 40 years caring for the dead and have always tried to do the right thing, Knuth said.
Knuth said the coroner’s office is already top-notch and one of the best in the state.
But in these difficult times, budgets are always a challenge, he said.
As a past manager, Knuth understands what a budget is and how to meet those challenges, he said.
If elected, Knuth said, he would strive to maintain the level of professionalism and integrity that is already there.