I-Team Payroll Project: With multiple paychecks, coroner makes $317K

March 23, 2018
Dr. Russell Uptegrove is the county coroner in Warren County and a full-time forensic pathologist in Montgomery County. TY GREENLEES/STAFF

Editor’s note: The Dayton Daily News I-Team is gathering payroll data for local governments across our region, as well as state government and higher education, as part of our Payroll Project. You can search Payroll Project data here. We are gathering payroll data for 2017 and will add it to the database as it is collected. If you have a suggestion for our Payroll Project, email I-Team reporter this reporter at Josh.Sweigart@coxinc.com.

Dr. Russell Uptegrove is among the top 10 highest-paid employees in both Montgomery and Warren counties, according to the Dayton Daily News I-Team Payroll Project.

The Payroll Project is a searchable database of state and local government employee salaries available on this newspaper’s website.

Uptegrove was paid $127,531 last year as the county coroner in Warren County and $175,290 as a full-time forensic pathologist in Montgomery County.

Uptegrove was also paid $14,800 last year and $26,700 in 2016 by Butler County under contract for the same type of work there; and he was paid $998 in 2016 by the state of Ohio to teach classes at the Ohio Peace Officers Training Academy.

State law says he should be paid less by Warren County if he has a private practice on the side, but he says that doesn’t apply to him because all of his work is for public entities.

This puts his total taxpayer-paid compensation at $317,621 last year, making him the highest-paid local government employee in the region.

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“I’m a hard working son of a bitch. That’s how it happens,” Uptegrove said when asked how he is able to perform multiple jobs. “I don’t play golf. I don’t have a lot of other time-consuming hobbies.”

He said he uses vacation time from Montgomery County for many of the hours he works elsewhere. He can stop by his office in Warren County on his way home from work in Montgomery County to do paperwork. Autopsies from Warren County are brought to Montgomery County under contract, where he either performs them or oversees them.

For Butler County, he performs autopsies on a contract basis. He performed 19 autopsies last year for $700 each, one homicide autopsy for $750 and five complete body inspections for $750 each.

“Most of the people who are coroners in Ohio have two jobs. I’m a little different because my other job happens to be a county government job, where other people are surgeons or anesthesiologists or OB/GYNs or working in an emergency room or pediatrician or whatever, so I’m different because of what my other job is.”

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The state law that sets coroners’ salaries puts them in two categories. Those who “engage in the private practice of medicine” are paid a lower rate than those who don’t have their own practice.

Uptegrove said he doesn’t have a private practice because all of his work is for public agencies. He said he was told by the Warren County prosecutor’s office that his pay was proper. Prosecutor David Fornshell would neither confirm nor deny this, citing attorney-client privilege.

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The Ohio Attorney General issued an opinion in 2012 that a county coroner working as a supervising physician in a hospital emergency room is considered to be engaged in the “private practice of medicine” so should be paid at the lower rate.

Other than that decision, state officials say the law is vague on what constitutes a “private practice” and it’s never been decided if working additional public-sector jobs would impact how coroners are paid. County prosecutors and engineers have similar provisions changing their pay if they have another job.

Greg Lawson, policy director for the conservative Buckeye Institute, said the law on county official pay should be re-examined. If the intent is to pay officials less if they have a second job, then that should apply regardless of whether it’s a public or private sector job, he said.

“It should be consistent one way or the other,” he said.

WARREN COUNTY’S HIGHEST PAID EMPLOYEES IN 2017 WERE:

1. Scott Swope, Warren County Health District medical director: $211,055

2. James Lawyer, mental health administrator: $133,621

3. Megan Manuel, Developmental Disability superintendent: $130,259

4. Russell Uptegrove, county coroner: $127,531

5. David Fornshell, county prosecutor: $127,428