November 2018 Treasure Valley Voters Guide

Welcome to our Voter Guide for the November general election, presented by the Idaho Statesman and the League of Women Voters of Idaho. Compare candidates' views on the issues side by side and create your own ballot, which you can then print or email.

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...Please note: Candidates' responses have not been edited.

Ada County Coroner

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  • Candidate picture

    Nikole O'Neal

  • Candidate picture

    Dotti Owens

Biographical Information

What education and experience do you have to prepare you to be a county coroner?

What would you like to accomplish as a county coroner?

What is working well in your county's coroner's office? What would you change?

What level of professional standards and training should Idaho require of an elected coroner?

What is needed to keep your office effective and efficient over the next 10 years?

What is one thing voters should understand about this office that they perhaps don't?

Age 35
Education -Undergraduate: Boise State University Honors College -Graduate: Drexel University College of Medicine, Idaho State University, Boise State University
Prior political experience None
Civic involvement - American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Idaho Chapter Board Member 2016 - Idaho Public Health Association Board Member 2016 - Boise State Honors College Alumni Board Member At-Large 2018
Years living in Idaho 30+
Facebook Niki O'Neal for Ada County Coroner
Twitter @oneal4coroner
I have a robust pathology background, including managerial responsibilities in a public health setting. I am a board-eligible Medical Laboratory Scientist (MLS) through the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP). My graduate education began at Drexel University College of Medicine in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences in Sacramento, California where I received advanced medical education in anatomical pathology.

I've worked for both local hospital systems, St. Luke’s and Saint Alphonsus, in their respective pathology labs, and I have performed medical testing and investigations for countless patients. I'm currently a researcher and graduate student at Idaho State University and Boise State University seeking ways to improve the field of pathology through public service.
The most important goal I have for the Ada coroner’s office is to bring administrative transparency and fiscal responsibility to the forefront. Today, the office administrative data (scene responses, total cases, autopsies performed, etc.) is not accurate and not available to the public. Even after the public records responses my campaign received, I do not believe I have an accurate workload picture for the office. The Ada County sheriff’s office provides their statistical data in an annual publication for the citizens, and my goal is to copy this type of publication for the coroner’s office. This important office should be a role model for data collections, and I plan to improve this.

I'm also passionate about advancing medical education in Idaho. With the new Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine nearby, I plan to take steps to partner with them in their efforts to bring medical education to Idaho. The Ada County coroner’s office is a unique place for formal medical training and would function well as a pathology rotation site for medical students in their residency. This important partnership will save our taxpayers' money as we assist ICOM in preparing future physicians.
I believe this office is staffed and prepared for the needed advancements, and I am also happy to see the coroner and staff are receiving annual death investigation training outside of Idaho. Introduction to new forensic technology and case studies can contribute greatly to learning in this industry. But after investigating the travel and training expenses for the office, I am concerned about the venues for some of the informal conferences. One of the accreditation organizations for the office offers a multi-day conference at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas where attendees network and attend poolside parties. I don’t want our tax dollars being spent on these vacation-style seminars year after year. Death investigation and forensic science are fields with constant change, and continuing education is necessary. As coroner, I will seek appropriate venues with genuine learning opportunities for all the staff.
Coroners must have professional standards that include personal integrity, ethics and accountability. I also believe our county coroners should have a medical background, especially in larger counties like Ada. This is one of the most important reasons I am running. As a county office with a variety of important responsibilities contributing to a host of statewide agencies, coroners are responsible for collecting, organizing and sharing data and to professionally and effectively communicate these findings with stakeholders.

And most importantly, the coroner's staff is responsible for connecting families to resources, so as the team leader, the coroner must be skilled and willing to form and sustain a variety of beneficial partnerships within the county, as well as the greater Idaho community.
The coroner's office needs to update their facility, and it's best this happen under a fiscally conservative leader as coroner. It’s unfortunate for Ada County that the current coroner has neglected to pursue revenue streams that would contribute to facility improvements over the last 4 years. Federal grants, such as the Paul Coverdell National Forensic Science Improvement Grant, are specifically available for coroner offices to apply for and are designed to assist with costs needed in facility improvements and personnel training. I will work tirelessly to seek out and apply for such grants so we may alleviate the Ada County taxpayers for some of these improvement costs.

With the increase in population in Ada County, the coroner's office should also prepare to offer more in-house pathology services. As a Medical Laboratory Scientist (MLS), I am qualified to perform, interpret and develop laboratory testing, and my skills will keep our taxpayers' money in Ada county rather than sending out testing to labs out of state.
There have only been 3 coroners in Ada County since the late 1970s, so it's time for a real change. This office has been stuck in the 20th century for too long, and it is going to take an innovative, resourceful leader to get us up to par at a reasonable cost, and I'll get it done. I have the energy and time to fully commit to the staff and our community through this office, and you can expect I will bring unparalleled results.
Age 46
Education I hold a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice (Administration and Criminology) and am currently moving forward with obtaining my PHD in Public Policy and Administrations. Continuing education is crucial for understanding best practices, chain of custody and jurisprudence, policies/procedures and helping to change legislation, education, and being in the forefront of national committees.
Prior political experience This is my first term as the Ada County Coroner. However during this term I have been involved in many legislation efforts. This month I was elected President of the Idaho State Coroner Association and chair of Intergovernmental Affairs through Idaho Association of Counties. I also sit on several committees with National Association of Counties (NACo), whom is instrumental in developing policy and procedures throughout various county jurisdictions around the nation.
Civic involvement I am involved in many boards, committees and workgroups on county, state and national level. I also serve on national Death Investigation Standards Boards, and am active in development of policy and procedure in the Medicolegal Death Investigation field. . This last year I was appointed to several committees with the National Association of Counties, which is credited for advocating legislation for counties such as Ada.
Years living in Idaho I was raised in Idaho and have been in Ada County since 2011. My Idaho roots go deep and I'm an Idaho farm girl at heart.
Family I currently reside in Meridian with my two girls, one 12 and my special needs daughter who is 22. I also have a daughter that is 26 and son age 25. Both live in Boise.
Facebook @DottiforAdaCoroner
Twitter @ReElectDotti
Other social media
Prior to my time as Ada County Coroner, I was the Forensic Supervisor and Medicolegal Death Investigator. I started my medicolegal death investigation journey while attending college almost 12 years ago. I have personally investigated and reviewed thousands of scenes ranging from suicides to homicides, child deaths to hospices, each and every one equally as important as the other. In 2011 I obtained my American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigations (ABMDI) certification and am a registered diplomat. I am Board Certified eligible for the ABMDI Fellowship, which I will be testing and obtaining within the next few months, this certification requires 4000 hours of medicolegal death investigation, demonstrating my experience in the field.

I have extensive knowledge in all divisions of the office and have led the Ada County Coroner’s Office to becoming the third Coroner’s jurisdiction in the nation, obtaining prestigious accreditations through National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME), International Association of Coroners and Medical Examiners (IAC&ME) and have also successfully trained my investigations team effectively so that they have obtained their ABMDI.
While continuing my career as the Ada County Coroner, there are many family and community projects that have become the focus for myself and the office. Suicide prevention education has been at the forefront. While many suicide prevention organizations are assisting those in need, the majority are focused on our youth. In reality, the majority of our suicide victims in Ada County are middle age. I will continue my work with local agencies in in finalizing our state suicide mortality work group which has been an ongoing joint effort for the last several months.

Along with the suicide epidemic, my position as Coroner has been an eye opener for the opioid crisis that is consuming both our state and nation. With representatives from the Idaho Drug Courts and other agencies we have recently begun to do “open-talk” community sessions to spread awareness on severity of opioid consumption in our community. In addition to providing accurate facts on opioid abuse, we also offer information for individuals (or families of individuals) looking for help with an opioid addiction.
The Ada County Coroner’s Office has been referred to as a “well-oiled machine.” The office functions effectively, efficiently, compassionately and professionally. Over the course of the last 3 ½ years we have revamped and upgraded policy and procedure of all aspects of the office to reflect national standards. All divisions of the office have a specific role and work closely with one another. Many specialties have been developed, for example; multiple family support programs, extensive research through our anthropology program, our internship program and academic outreach to many of the high schools throughout the Treasure Valley. Cross training takes place, utilizing all aspects of the office to benefit our community.

At times, decedents are transported to the ACCO prior to notification of next of kin. Many times this is done out of concern of the integrity of the investigation as well as to protect the decedent from public view. Consequently, we are unable to grant requests made by families to view decedents at our facility. A viewing room would benefit families so that they are not burdened with having to wait days (weekends/holidays) to see their loved ones.
Idaho requirements for Coroner’s is deficient Coroners throughout the state of Idaho should be required to be American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigations (ABMDI) certified prior to becoming a Coroner. This certification would require 600 hours of medicolegal death investigation experience, in addition to the ability to complete 250 tasks. This ensures that the Coroner is trained appropriately in death investigation, investigation policy and procedure, along with experience working with families and completing next of kin notification as well as having the ability and knowledge of court testimony for both civil and criminal cases.

This role of the coroner is not to be taken lightly, but instead with drive, determination, compassion and understanding of the needs of communities in which they serve, which I necessitate each and every day. This is a 24 hour a day responsibility and I pursue nothing but the best for our decedents, their families and the community that I serve. A large part of those needs includes having a coroner who can maintain the certifications that have been acquired in the last 4 years that are crucial to our county.
With the growth that Ada County has been experiencing and will continue to experience, our challenges in the next 10 years will be room to expand and the budget required to manage that growth. Currently my office has outgrown our debilitating facility and we are constantly burdened with power issues, parking challenges, tissue and evidence storage and lack of room for additional employees that will be needed in the future. In order to maintain accreditation's and quality death investigations, the Ada County Coroner’s Office is going to have to grow with our community.
Voters need to understand the importance of what the multifaceted role that the Ada County Coroner holds. It’s not just making sure homicides and motor vehicle accidents are investigated to the best of our ability, but also paying attention to deaths of our grandmothers and grandfathers who fall when they become frail, or our children that were caught in a crisis and taken too soon. It’s the sons and daughters that were hurt on the job or over-prescribed medications. Young and old, healthy or sick, we are the seekers of truth and we find answers for them all. In a state where qualification requirements are minimal, this role should only be occupied by an individual that has extensive knowledge in the field, hands on experience investigating all types of deaths and the compassion to knock on the door at three in the morning and deliver a heart wrenching notification of a child that is deceased.