We interviewed the candidates for Franklin County coroner a little over a month ago, and we still cannot forget the tension between them.
It was that extreme.
We purposely waited to make our decision between incumbent Dan Blasdel and challenger Curtis McGary in case that tension snapped and new information presented itself.
Now, we have decided not to wait any longer. Our nod goes to Blasdel.
This recommendation, we know, goes against the opinion of many law enforcement officials in Pasco and Franklin County.
Blasdel isn’t a smooth character, and he has a rocky relationship with the police and the sheriff’s department.
But he is direct, responsive to the media and has the public’s best interests at heart. He also has held the position for 23 years.
And Blasdel sticks to his convictions even if it means getting sideways with other elected officials in the county.
Pasco was torn apart in 2015 by the shooting death of Antonio Zambrano-Montes. The 35-year-old Mexican immigrant was high on methamphetamine and throwing rocks at passing motorists when police ordered him to stop.
Three officers took aim and killed Zambrano-Montes when he did not comply, causing an uproar in the city.
Within days of Zambrano-Montes’ death, Blasdel announced plans for an inquest, which would allow the public to learn more about what happened.
Blasdel was blocked by other county officials, including the prosecutor, county commissioners and Superior Court judges who said a courtroom would not be made available.
But he persevered and the inquest happened two years later. In the end, the jury for the Zambrano-Montes inquest found the shooting justified.
Blasdel told the editorial board he felt it was necessary to be transparent, and get more about the shooting investigation out in the open.
We think so too.
New state legislation was enacted in light of Blasdel’s struggle. The law now requires the Superior Court to schedule a courtroom if a coroner deems an inquest necessary. That’s affirmation of Blasdel’s decision to push for what he thought was right.
Even so, he is at odds with many who would like to see him out of office.
Franklin County Sheriff Jim Raymond, the Pasco Police Officers Association and Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant have endorsed Blasdel’s opponent, Curtis McGary.
McGary is a longtime funeral director at Mueller’s Funeral Home in Pasco, and said he has been planning to run for the coroner’s office for more than four years. He is professional, polite, sophisticated and he likely would bring a sense of decorum to the coroner’s office.
He also has concerns with Blasdel’s demeanor and the way he runs the department. For example, McGary said Blasdel cut Mueller’s off the coroner’s rotation list in August without notice.
Two Pasco funeral homes take turns transporting bodies for the coroner’s office, and scratching Mueller’s could be seen as a vindictive move by Blasdel because McGary is running against him.
Blasdel denies that’s the case, and said a confrontation between employees in his department and Mueller’s led to his decision to drop the funeral home.
After all this came to light, Mueller’s is now back on the rotation schedule.
This looks bad – and it’s an example of why we hesitated to recommend Blasdel right away. But in the end, we decided there is more to commend than not.
He has investigative experience that McGary lacks. Blasdel has held leadership positions in state organizations related to his field, and he has managed to run a big-dog job on a budget of scraps.
And in our dealings with him, he always has been reliable and available. We have not heard complaints about Blasdel from the public – only from law enforcement and Mueller’s.
A coroner shouldn’t be in lock-step with police, and Blasdel protects the independence of his office. He also fought for transparency in the Zambrano-Montes case, and we respect that.
The Tri-City Herald recommends Dan Blasdel for Franklin County Coroner.