Two Republicans will square off in the Aug. 4 primary for the Webster County Coroner’s position. Tiffany Kirk, a newcomer to politics, is challenging 15-year incumbent Michael Taylor for the office.
The candidates were alike in stating that each had no animosity toward the other; rather, each wants to serve the county’s residents well in the role.
There is no Democratic candidate for coroner, so the winner of the primary election will be the county’s next coroner, unless someone files as an independent by July 27 or has a successful write-in campaign in the general election (a situation that County Clerk Stan Whitehurst said would be unusual).
The Mail sat down with each candidate to discuss their desires and plans for the position.
Nurse practitioner Tiffany Kirk has issued a challenge to the incumbent coroner in the Aug. 4 Republican primary election.
Kirk told The Mail that her desire to serve is what led her to run for the office.
"As far as running for coroner, I really started thinking about it about a year ago — how can I serve the county as a nurse practitioner?" she said. "I started looking into the position then. That's an area where I can serve with the skills that I have and the knowledge set that I have."
She briefly considered running as an independent candidate; however, Kirk is a Republican. "At heart I can't compromise who I am, so I decided to run on the Republican ticket," she staid.
Kirk said that she doesn't know the current coroner. "I really tell people that I don’t look at it as I'm running against somebody," she said. "I'm running for the office, giving people the opportunity to see if my skill set could be good for Webster County."
Kirk said that she would like to see the coroner's office used for education and prevention as well as investigation. "That would be something I'd like to see if I were elected," she said.
She said that it is important to educate county residents on the trends in deaths that are being seen. If there are child-related or automotive fatalities, for instance, she said, "I'd like to see how we can work that into prevention for everyone."
Kirk has been a nurse practitioner for three years and is trained in family primary care, which covers the whole lifespan. She has also done forensic nursing at Cox Health, along with intensive care and hospice nursing.
She added that in crime scene investigative nursing, she has mainly focused on sexual assault victims. "Our training includes the crime scene," she said.
When asked what personal traits she would bring to the job, Kirk was quick to respond with "compassion." She said, "I think that the heart of nursing is really in compassion and serving others, and that’s where my education lies is in that root of nursing."
She added that it is in her character to be very thorough. "As a nurse practitioner, I have to look at all areas of health and how that affects a person. This will help me with all aspects of death scene investigation and looking at all pieces of the puzzle."
When asked what she saw as the challenges of the coroner’s position, Kirk noted that there are undoubtedly many — but that she is ready for them. "Reading about the position and then of course living the position are two different things. I am excited to take on anything that might come that way."
She said that she has read articles about the two approaches to the coroner’s position: a coroner or a medical examiner. This latter role is a physician-trained individual, and would cost much more for a county to maintain. As a nurse practitioner, Kirk thinks she may have a bit of an edge. "This is kind of the best of both worlds," she said. "It's the same skill set at a reduced cost. It's very important to have more of an in-depth knowledge of how the body works so that you can recognize those little nuances that might lead to the correct cause of death, correct death time, versus what’s on the surface."
Current Webster County Coroner Michael Taylor said that he has devoted his life to emergency services here, having served 30 years with the Marshfield Fire Department and Marshfield Fire Protection District; he has been fire chief since 2005. He has also provided emergency medical care to patients in Webster and surrounding counties.
"I have always had a passion for helping others," Taylor said.
He noted that as coroner, he sees a wide range of cases. The coroner investigates medically unattended deaths, usually natural, but also accidental deaths, suicides and homicides. "So the job of coroner requires knowledge, skills and experience in medicine, law (as it relates to death investigation) and death scene investigation," Taylor said.
Ultimately, his job is accurately determine the cause and manner of death of those who die in Webster County.
"In my time as coroner, I have had the ability to improve the technology within the office," Taylor said, "such as standardizing our reports to ensure uniformity in reporting, moving the reporting to a computer-based system to allow for more complete and timely coroner reports, and participating in the Missouri electronic death certificate reporting system, which allows death certificates to reach the family members of those who have died much more quickly so important state matters can be dealt with sooner."
Taylor said that he also brought on deputy coroners during his time in office to ensure a timely response and a more efficient office.
Keeping Webster Countians informed is also important to Taylor. "I feel it is important to get needed information out to the citizens of our community, so during my tenure as coroner I have researched, written and given press releases on several important topics relating to death trends in Webster County," he said. These have included seat belt usage, opiate abuse and infant death related to unsafe sleep environment.
When Taylor took office in 2004, death records were recorded in ledger files. Taylor worked immediately to move the office into the age of technology, which had the benefits of uniformity, efficiency and timeliness for family members, he said.
He pointed out that speeding up the process of reporting accurate information is helpful to family members, who need that information for insurance and estate purposes.
When asked if he was surprised to have a GOP challenger, Taylor said maybe. But he added, "I think that's what makes our system what it is. Everyone has a right to seek elected office and bring their skills and experience into public service.
Taylor has continued his education throughout his time in office, and and his staff receive extensive training annually through the Missouri Coroners and Medical Examiners Association.
He added that he likes being Webster County's Coroner.
"I enjoy it," he said. "I want to keep serving our community. I appreciate any support, and I would like to stay in for many years to come."