Government center ruling could be a death warrant for coroner's office move

The county has appealed a Pierce County judge’s ruling that Kitsap County may not move workers and several offices to a proposed downtown Bremerton government center.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean the county wants to resurrect the government center.

Kitsap County Commissioner Tim Botkin said officials now are concerned with plans to move the Coroner’s Office to the Emergency Readiness Center in West Bremerton.

The lawsuit sought to clarify whether moving to the planned government center constituted an illegal transfer of the county seat. Pierce County Superior Court Judge Bruce Cohoe ruled the move was illegal.

The coroner’s office was listed in the lawsuit, leaving County Coroner Greg Sandstrom’s plans in doubt. Cohoe’s governance center ruling included a provision by which the city and county could negotiate a settlement, subject to court approval.

“The city is always willing to talk with the county, that’s not the question,” said Port Orchard Mayor Jay Weatherill. “We need to find out exactly what the law says about the coroner’s office ... and remain within the law.”

“The Coroner’s Office was named in the litigation, even though it was not part of the governance center plan,” said Botkin. “The loose discussions we have had with the city have been good.”

Botkin said the appeal can be dropped at any time.

Moving to the readiness center would help Sandstrom’s drive to implement the new Network of Medical-legal Investigative Systems (NOMIS), a planned national network that would allow law enforcement officers, medical examiners, heath district officials and coroners to access helpful death information and statistics.

A computer server for NOMIS would be installed at the proposed readiness center facility, which is part of the reason officials hope to make the move.

The readiness center also “is more centrally located, making our response quicker to all parts of the county,” Sandstrom wrote in a letter to Commissioner Jan Angel of South Kitsap. “At the readiness center, there would also be classrooms available for us to teach other coroners, firefighters and law enforcement officials about death investigation.”

Angel initiated talks between the county and Port Orchard this week. Although she opposed the Bremerton government center, she isn’t necessarily opposed to moving the coroner’s office.

“The coroner’s request is a common sense request,” said Angel. “The morgue belongs in a law enforcement area, where it can be most effective.”

The morgue is located in the basement of a building located the corner of Sweany Street and Sidney Avenue in Port Orchard, which was damaged in the 2001 Nisqually earthquake.

Angel opposes the appeal.

“I just feel the county and city, in good faith, went to a judge for an opinion,” Angel said. “We got that.”

One potential solution involves leaving the main office in Port Orchard while establishing a lab at the readiness center in Bremerton.

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