Coroner Race Remains Friendly Despite Office Issues

Police coroner examining dead body corpse in morgue

(Gillette, Wyo.) Most offices have some tension, but when it is public record you’re a candidate for your boss’s job, it can be especially bad.

Paul Wallem is among three candidates who are challenging incumbent Laura Sundstrom for the coroner’s position at the Campbell County Coroner’s Office.

Wallem has been serving part-time as deputy coroner for the past three years, in addition to being news director for Basin Radio Network.

In order to remain fair to other candidates, the radio station managers requested Wallem not speak on the air until after the primaries in August. He’s still performing all his other duties at the station.

In an interview with County 17 about juggling his job as a reporter and being a candidate for a public office, Wallem was asked about problems with his computer at the coroner’s office. He declined to comment at the time, saying he didn’t want to toss out any accusations.

In a letter to local media today, Wallem said since informing Sundstrom of his intention to run, he no longer receives hours and cannot log onto his computer.

In the letter, Wallem was explicit in saying he’s not making any accusations and wrote the letter because County 17 had asked him about the situation.

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Wallem explained he spoke to Sundstrom about the issue and was told the coroner’s budget was running out of money and couldn’t give him hours until the next fiscal year, which starts next month. He said she was polite and answered his questions.

“I have decided to give Sundstrom the benefit of the doubt regarding the issue,” Wallem stated in the letter.

Sundstrom confirmed she is having budget issues with regard to paying Wallem for his time and would review the office’s financial situation in the next fiscal year to determine how many hours she can give the deputy.

Wallem is one of three deputy coroners and performs administrative assistant duties, Sundstrom said. He has the lowest seniority, and that is why she decided to cut his hours.

She also explained that Wallem, since he is a part-time employee, the county’s Information Technology Services will not provide him with a login of his own. So, he uses her login and password.

The network requires employees to update their passwords, Sundstrom said, and since Wallem wasn’t getting any hours, Sundstrom didn’t give him the new password.

Deputy Coroner Billy Montgomery also uses Sundstrom’s login for his own work, which involves cleanup after autopsies.

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There are two other deputy coroners, and Sundstrom said they also use her login.

According to Campbell County Administrative Director Robert Palmer, two deputy coroners were given their own login accounts in 2015, but a request was never submitted for Wallem’s login.

Sundstrom said she’s not denying Wallem hours or access to the computer because he’s a competitor in the race.

“Paul and I are good. Everything is good,” Sundstrom said.

Wallem expressed the same sentiment in his letter.

“I hold no animosity over the issue and hope to return to working hours at the Campbell County Coroner’s Office…during the next fiscal year,” Wallem wrote.

The primaries are Aug. 21. Besides Wallem and Sundstrom, Samantha Lang, and Kevin McGrath have also entered the coroner’s race.

Originally from New Mexico, Killough began his career writing freelance for a weekly magazine in Albuquerque while completing his undergraduate degree. In addition to reporting on uranium mining in western New Mexico, he spent three years reporting in western North Dakota during the height of the oil boom. He can be reached at kevin@county17.com or 701-641-6603.