Maynard “Bud” Baker claims damages and demands a better system
Allegany County hires Buffalo law firm to defend
By Andrew Harris, pictured is Maynard “Bud” Baker
Longtime Allegany County Coroner Maynard Baker filed a formal complaint with the NYS Division of Human Rights claiming discrimination based on age. The complaint also makes a claim of retaliation for filing a complaint with Allegany County. This isn’t a simple situation and requires some background information:
Allegany County has four elected coroners who have this basic job description:
“A coroner is an elected official (usually at the county level) who is responsible for the investigation of deaths occurring within a specific jurisdiction, as required by law. Specifically, coroners are responsible for conducting investigations to determine cause and mode of death.”
Of the four coroners, three have been in the position for over 10 years. In Allegany County, a coroner is called by the local authority like the police department or hospital.
When the coroner responds to the scene, the body is taken into their custody, then to either a funeral home, a medical facility (in the case of an autopsy) or to a cold storage facility.
In Allegany County, all the coroners are also funeral home owners. Only Baker-Swan and Olney-Foust funeral homes have cold storage facilities.
An important fact about this situation is that the coroner isn’t necessarily the funeral home that handles the last affairs of the deceased.
For example, a Wellsville man dies while visiting Cuba Lake. The Cuba-based coroner (a funeral home owner) is called and takes possession of the deceased. The family wants to hire a Wellsville based funeral home though, so the coroner coordinates for that funeral home to take possession of the deceased. A family can also request a specific coroner. Because coroners are also funeral home owners — at least in Allegany County — the principle figures (coroners and funeral home owners) play dual roles.
The complaintant, Maynard “Bud” Baker is one example, being in his fourth term as county coroner and owning the Baker-Swan Funeral Home with locations in Wellsville and Andover. The other coroners are in the same boat: Dylan Foust is a partner in the Olney-Foust Funeral Home, Mark Rinker owns Rinker Funeral Home in Cuba NY, and Herb Williams owns Kopler-Williams Funeral Home in Fillmore NY.
In an ideal situation, coroners are dispatched to work for on a rotating basis. When a coroner is called, but they can not do the job at hand, the next coroner on the rotation is called until someone responds.
In Allegany County things have worked a little differently for many years.
The coroners in the north portion of the county, Rinker and Williams, are in general, not inclined to travel to Wellsville or Willing. They do not get calls for deaths in places like Andover or Alma and they have no problem with that.
The coroners in the south portion of the county have been Wellsville-based for recent history. Foust is serving his first term, Baker is serving his fourth. Those coroners provide service to the largest population center and communities like Scio, Andover, Willing, and Belmont.
So for the sake of understanding Baker’s complaint, the two coroners who generally cover the north part of the county are not relevant. In fact, both Rinker and Williams firmly stated that they have no comment on the complaint filed. The focus is on the two Wellsville-based coroners and a discrepancy who Baker has filed a formal complaint about.
This complaint is an “Age Discrimination Complaint,” filed with the New York State Division of Human Rights. In the paperwork that was filed and provided to the Wellsville Sun, Baker said, “The youngest and the least experienced of the county coroner’s is being favored above the other three coroners.”
That coroner is Dylan Foust, a principle at the Onley-Foust Funeral Home who also does business as the Wellsville Funeral Home. We asked Foust about the complaint that was filed.
“This is news to me. Ted Crowell (former Allegany County Coroner) was 86-years-old doing the same amount of coroner calls as I am,” Foust said. “I don’t think there is an age discrimination issue.”
Baker provides that he has been trying to make his case for three years and found that no county official was willing, or able, to take action based on his assertions. Baker contends that the more he complained and demanded reforms, the more his coroner calls dropped.
To validate his claims, Baker simply points to the Allegany County Coroner Report for 2020, 2021, and 2022. The formal rebuttal from Allegany County includes 2019 data as well:
Baker, 63, believes that the in balance in coroner calls is due to age discrimination and a flawed system. That flaw largely comes down to how a coroner is dispatched.
“If Allegany County would create a central dispatch (through the Sheriff’s office) that worked with a rotating list of coroner calls then this sort of disparity wouldn’t happen,” Baker said.
Baker’s meetings with District IV legislators Steven Havey, Jim Rumfelt, and Gary Barnes indicate that local leaders agree a better system is needed. That group met with other stakeholders at the Andover Town Office in 2022 and the conversation was documented by Linda Baker and submitted as part of the complaint.
When we asked those legislators to talk about how the complaint by Baker would be handled, they had no comment. Allegany administration isn’t going to talk much about a serious pending complaint but County Administrator Carissa Knapp did give this general comment:
“As to the Coroners in general: Many outside agencies call for a Coroner without going through the County dispatch system. The County currently lacks a means to mandate these agencies place their Coroner requests through dispatch which means these agencies may directly call the Coroner of their choosing. The calls that do go through dispatch are handled in both a regional basis in regards to our Coroners located in Cuba and Fillmore and a rotational basis in regards to our two other Coroners who are both located in and Wellsville.
To change the current system, a local law is first necessary so that the County can mandate that all calls for a Coroner go through dispatch to be consistently dispatched. As the general rule of thumb of elected offices is that you cannot pass laws that affect the powers and duties of the office within a current term, the County has not yet advanced such a local law to an agenda.
As you probably know, the current term of office for the Coroners expires this year. I have spent the better part of the past year researching this issues related to the Coroners and have formulated a solid draft Local Law that is being reviewed by our County Attorney. Pending her approval, I hope to have it before the Board for a vote this spring so that it may take effect January 1, 2024 concurrent with the new term of office for Coroners.”
That statement seemed to indicate that Allegany County is moving in the same direction as Baker’s complaint demands but with larger elements at play. In the meantime, Allegany County isn’t taking any chances and has retained the outside counsel of Buffalo based law firm Bond, Schoeneck and King. A lawyer from that firm, James Rooney, Esq., has already fired back a response to the complaint by Baker.
That nine-page response by Allegany County is found below for those who care to read the entire county rebuke of Mr. Baker’s complaint.
That response from Allegany County, through Rooney, can be summarized with this, ” “In the end, Mr. Baker’s Complaint amounts to nothing more than Mr. Baker airing years’ worth of personal grievances that he has with the current and former coroners. His Complaint is one of personal gripes, not discrimination or retaliation. It is wholly without merit and should be dismissed in its entirety.”
What is next for this new legal tussle in Allegany County is unclear. We will update you on the story and welcome letters to the editor on this subject with really impacts us all, eventually.
To be clear, this complaint does not impact the operations of either Baker-Swan or Olney-Foust funeral homes. Both are valued customers of the Wellsville Sun and open for business.