Candidates: Coroner’s race is about compassion

Published 11:58 pm Wednesday, July 18, 2007

NATCHEZ — Coroner might not be the most talked-about race for the upcoming county elections, but when a loved one dies, you want someone compassionate, coroner candidates said.

“It’s important for people to know they have a dependable, compassionate personnel in the coroner’s office,” Candidate Tonja Butler (D) said. “Nobody likes to have to consider that they’re going to need a coroner some day. But when they have to face an event, they want to know they have someone to care for their family members.”

Butler served with the Natchez Police Department for 15 years in patrol and crime scene investigation, she said. For the past three years, she has served as a probation and parole officer.

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“I would prefer that experience not go to waste,” she said. “I have maintained a good working relationship with law enforcement officers, which is paramount to death investigating.”

Jonathan Hargrave (D) also wants to be a compassionate coroner, but finances are also important, he said.

“I think it’s important to have an efficient budget, especially in the coroner’s office,” Hargrave said. “The money (saved) could be put to use for recreation for children and (seniors).”

Hargrave has worked for seven years as a funeral coordinator at West Funeral Home. That experience will help him should he be elected coroner, he said.

“I deal a lot with the families of the deceased,” Hargrave said. “I have always had a passion for dealing with people. And in this business, it takes a special kind of person to do this.”

Incumbent coroner James Lee (D) said his time in office, as well as 28 years as a pastor and 28 years working in hospitals has prepared him for the job.

“Your job can affect people’s lives,” Lee said. “The decisions you make can directly or indirectly have bearing on people’s lives.”

A corner has to be able to submit paperwork, determine the cause of death and work with law enforcement in the event they decide to investigate it as a homicide, he said.

Lee said he was proud to have established a physical office for the coroner and obtain a vehicle for the office.

“I think we offer a whole lot to people,” Lee said. “I think we’ve done a great job.”

Candidate Zefer Young (D) said she wanted to run for coroner because she is “a people person.”

“I am very compassionate, and I can be there for individuals in their time of need,” Young said.

A certified nursing assistant, Young has more than 15 years of experience in the medical field, including home health, nursing homes and hospitals.

Young said she would take time to be with the families of those who died and treat everyone equally.

Primary elections will be Aug. 7.