The position of county coroner demands one to be on-call, 24 hours a day, seven days a week unless scheduled otherwise, said Kevin Sharp, who recently resigned as Cortland County coroner.
Sharp has missed birthdays and Thanksgiving dinners due to his duties, which included determining the nature of a death and whether an autopsy was needed, he said.
After 17 years, Sharp is retiring from the position to focus on his two funeral businesses — K.L. Sharp Funeral Home in Cincinnatus and Marathon Memorial Chapel in Marathon — and spend more time with his family.
“It was a tough decision for me to make,” Sharp said. “I had always wanted to complete my fifth term for 20 years but things had changed.”
Specifically, how scheduling was handled.
Before this year, Sharp would schedule for himself and now-retired Cortland County Coroner Whitney Meeker with a focus on keeping every other weekend free for himself and free for Meeker, Sharp said.
That changed this year as earlier this month, Sharp learned without prior knowledge Robert Corpora, the Cortland County administrator, assigned scheduling to Cortland County Legislature Clerk Eric Mulvihill, Sharp said.
More recently, the new schedule was sent to appointed interim Coroner Denise Bushnell and the deputy coroners without sending one to Sharp for consideration, he said in a guest column published Monday in the Cortland Standard.
What pushed Sharp to retire was when he learned earlier this month that he would not have a weekend off from work for two months.
“It was just enough to push me over the edge to say, ‘No more. I just can’t do it,’” Sharp said, adding that he doesn’t like to be micromanaged.
Mulvihill directed questions and comments regarding the change in scheduling to Paul Heider, the chairman of the Cortland County Legislature.
Heider declined to comment on scheduling but did release a statement regarding Sharp’s retirement.
“On behalf of the Cortland County Legislature I would like to express our sincere gratitude to retiring Cortland County Coroner, Kevin Sharp,” Heider said in the statement. “Kevin has served our county for 17 years in the most difficult and sensitive position of any elected official in our county. In speaking with legislators and community members he has served our county selflessly with dignity and compassion. We are thankful for his service and we wish him well in retirement.”
Further strain had been added in the last few months as Meeker retired from the position in December, leaving Sharp as the only full-time elected county coroner. Bushnell was subsequently appointed to fill Meeker’s position until the next election later this year.
Sharp said the county deputy coroners, whose positions were created this year, work on a per diem basis.
Sharp was elected Cortland County Coroner in 2003.
Prior to that, he was the county coroner in Tioga County before leaving to purchase his funeral home in Cinnincatus in 1990, he said.
Since he became coroner in 2004, Sharp said the cases involving opioids have been some of the biggest ones that stand out.
Most notable about opioid-related deaths are the ages of the deceased.
“We’re not talking about teenagers,” he said. “We’re talking about young adults” ranging in their 30s to 50s, he said.
He especially remembers responding to three suicides in one day.
Sharp said he’s most proud of the working relationships he’s made with law enforcement and medical officials over the years and working with Meeker to make record filing more consistent, easier and streamlined through a secured digital database.
“The coroner, we brought it up to a new standard,” Sharp said. “It is my hope that will continue.”
Additionally, he made sure to never let there be a conflict of interest between his two jobs as funeral home director and coroner.
Sharp thanked the voters of Cortland County for putting their confidence in him.
“I’ve really, really enjoyed my tenure as coroner,” he said. “But, it was time to move on.”