May 2018 Treasure Valley Voters Guide

Welcome to our Voter Guide for the May primaries, 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: The guide will display candidates from multiple parties in one group. At the polls, you will be asked to choose a Republican, Democratic or nonpartisan ballot. Idaho's Republican primary is closed, while the Democratic primary is open to voters affiliated with any party. There are no primaries this year for the Constitution or Libertarian parties. 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 and Idaho State University
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+
I have a robust pathology education including managerial responsibilities in a public health setting. My pathology education began at Drexel University College of Medicine in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences in California where I received education in human autopsy and anatomy. Today, I study at Idaho State University performing research that combines pathology with public policy. I have worked for both local hospital system - St. Luke’s and Saint Alphonsus – pathology labs supporting and conducting medical investigations for countless patient cases. I am qualified to interpret and perform laboratory testing used to detect drugs of abuse and cancer, heart attacks, diabetes and pathogens that cause infections. I am also privy to Idaho coroner duties as determined by Idaho law.
The most important accomplishment I aim for with the Ada County Coroner’s office is to bring administrative transparency and fiscal responsibility to the forefront. The Ada County Coroner’s current administrative data (scene responses, total cases, autopsies performed, etc.) is being hidden from the public, and even with the public records requests my campaign recently obtained, I do not have an accurate workload picture for the office. The Ada County Sheriff’s office provides a publication each year for citizens stating the work they do, and I plan to copy this type of publication for the Coroner’s office. It is the duty of the electors to hold coroners accountable, and without full transparency on the work being done, measuring fiscal responsibility is impossible. If I am elected Coroner for Ada County, I will fix this immediately.
I appreciate that the coroner and select staff are getting annual death investigation training outside of Idaho. Introductions to new forensic technology and case studies can contribute greatly to learning in the industry. However, after investigating the check register for travel and training expenses, I am concerned about the venues for some of the conferences. One of the accreditation organizations for the Ada County Coroner’s office offers its members a multi-day annual trip to the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas where attendees get to network through a variety of conferences each day for a few hours with evening poolside and comedy parties included. I don’t want our taxpayer’s money being spent on these vacation-type seminars year after year. Death investigation is an ever-changing industry, and continuing education is important, so if I am elected Coroner, I will seek out more appropriate venues and advancement opportunities for staff.
Coroners must have professional standards of personal integrity, ethical concern and accountability. Idaho should also require elected coroners to receive and provide continuing education each year throughout their term. As an elected official with a variety of important responsibilities for a host of statewide agencies, Coroners and their staff have an opportunity to connect with the community in many positive ways. For just a small fee, I once enrolled in a lengthy seminar offered by the Ada County Coroner’s forensic pathologist and the Boise School District Community Education program, but unfortunately this partnership has since dissolved. If I am Coroner, I hope to revive this partnership, and begin similar new partnerships, to connect the public with staff within the Coroner’s office.
Erwin Sonnenberg said in an interview with KBOI when he retired in 2014 that the next coroner must be up to speed with major advancements in forensic science and lab technology. As a Medical Laboratory Scientist with a similar knowledge base as the former longtime coroner, I agree with his statement. Over the next 10 years, the Ada County Coroner’s office will need staff and properly directed resources for these improvements. We can do it, and we must, and I will commit to this in my first term if I am elected Coroner.
In the last 40 years, there has been only 3 elected Ada County Coroners. It’s important to have a renewed approach from time to time to include new leaders in local offices, just as it is at the national level in our country. With a growing population, and heavy influence of only a small number of county elected coroners for Ada County, I believe a change in leadership will be needed for the improvement and scientific advancement of this public office.
Age 45
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 past year, I have drafted legislation for the creation of a Suicide Mortality Team throughout Idaho. This will be presented in the next legislative session.
Civic involvement I am involved in many boards, committees and workgroups on county, state and national level. I am the Vice President of our State Coroner's Association as well as the legislative representative. I also serve on many Death Investigation Standards Boards nationally. 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 just turning 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 a state Suicide Mortality Review Team, which has been an ongoing joint effort for the last eight 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 investigations, investigation policy and procedure, holds the ability to obtain fluids for toxicology, 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.
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.