Pettis County Coroner Robert “Skip” Smith has been challenged by Dan Hankins for his position, and the race will be decided Aug. 2 with only two Republicans on the primary election ballot.
Smith was elected in 2004 and has been on the job for close to 20 years, including his time as deputy coroner. He said he decided to seek re-election because he wants to continue serving the citizens of Pettis County.
Smith has been a licensed funeral director/embalmer for about 35 years, he said, and is a Missouri-licensed Emergency Medical Technician, a Missouri-licensed funeral director, certified medical investigator, and has completed the Medical Legal Death Investigator Training Course as well as multiple homicide and crime scene training courses. He also owns a medical exam company that he said conducts hundreds of medical exams each year.
“I learn as much as I can,” he said of his extensive training background. “I feel like it benefits the county the more knowledge that I have.”
When it comes to top issues facing the coroner’s office, Smith said he is “always looking for things to improve on.”
“When I took over the office 12 years ago, I was basically handed a few sheets of paper, forms, a few body bags and that’s what the coroner’s office consisted of,” he continued. “We have equipment now to do a multitude of investigations and we’re always looking for ways to improve on things, ways to provide community service.”
Smith said he believes the main responsibility of the coroner is to be an advocate for the person who died.
“I feel the job is an important job because the person that dies has rights for someone to see them and determine what happened to them,” he said. “I feel like that’s what the coroner’s main job is to be the advocate for that person that died. Of course at the same time, being compassionate to the family and working with the families.
“But the coroner’s main responsibility is determining the cause and manner of death, which I feel is very important and critical, especially on cases that could be criminal cases or even car accidents, homicides, suicides. It’s critical to gather all the facts and investigate every aspect that you can.”
Smith said if he is re-elected, his goals for office include continuing to provide a responsible service to the community, try to improve the office, and make it the best coroner’s office in the state.
“I would love to see the state make some type of certification. I know we’re trying to get our certification to be a certified office (by the American Board of Medical Legal Death Investigators),” Smith said. “There’s only 37 certified people in the state of Missouri so we’re striving to get that accomplished. There’s very few actual coroner’s offices that are certified.
“In Kansas City, St. Louis and county medical examiners, you have to be certified before you work for them, so that would put us up equivalent to those offices and I think that would be a great asset for Pettis County.”
His biggest challenges if re-elected include the office’s budget and the “changing times. It seems like we have more drug overdoses and suicides and unfortunately more homicides. Those are always the biggest challenges.”
Smith said he thinks the coroner’s office should be a medical position and should be run by someone with a medical background.
“The county deserves to have someone who’s qualified and experienced and educated. I have all of those,” Smith said of why citizens should vote for him. “I’ve done the job for 20 years, working with (former coroner) Fred, even longer than that. When I first moved to Sedalia in 1984 I started working with him and have been around the office since 1984. I have the training and experience, I’m licensed in multiple fields related to death and funeral service. I have a multitude of training and feel I’m the best person qualified to do the job.
“I can step into the job Aug. 3 and treat it like an office out of Kansas City or St. Louis, where if someone else (wins) they’re going to need a multitude of training to do the job.”
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-530-0138 or @NicoleRCooke.