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
I-Team Payroll Project
Go to MyDaytonDailyNews.com/data/news/payroll-project for a searchable database of public employee salaries in state government, as well as area counties, school districts, cities, townships, villages and other local entities such as libraries.