Jacksonville, FL - Following the resignation of the District Four interim Chief Medical Examiner, a new Chief could soon be installed in Jacksonville.
The Florida Medical Examiners Commission has unanimously accepted the nomination of Dr. B. Robert Pietak as Chief Medical Examiner for District Four, which provides services for Clay, Columbia, Duval, Hamilton, and Nassau counties. That acceptance is contingent on Pietak receiving a Florida medical license, and is then subject to final appointment by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
Pietak is currently the interim Chief Medical Examiner in Jackson County, Missouri. He declined an interview with WOKV at this time, but documents we’ve obtained are giving some indication of his expectations and the opinions of those who have worked with him before.
Pietak’s nomination was the result of screening by a local Search Committee, which consisted of the two State Attorneys for the counties this Medical Examiner covers- Melissa Nelson and Jeffrey Siegmeister- law enforcement, public defenders, and others. They interviewed several candidates and intended to refer two to the Commission, but one withdrew, saying the priorities didn’t align. The Search Committee moved forward with referring Pietak, who had been their top choice regardless.
The incoming Chief Medical Examiner will oversee an Office that has had facility constraints, including needing to bring in a trailer to hold bodies, because the existing building ran out of room. The current City budget set aside some money to start site selection for a new facility which is expected to cost around $24.5 million, but it’s a process that will take time. During the interview with the Search Committee, Pietak said the trailer did give the Office a lot of space, but he believes funding will be needed to meet the continually growing space demands.
This is also a time that Jacksonville is dealing with a lot of fatalities as the result of violent crime, and the region overall battles the toll of opioid addiction. Pietak says he is a Chief that does homicide autopsies where he is now, and he would intend to continue that in Jacksonville. He told the Search Committee that the goal is the best death investigation possible, and that includes handling calls from family members. The City’s operating budget also put more funding toward staff and work hours at the Office, to deal with the rising demands.
Pietak told the Search Committee that he sought this position for a number of reasons, including that he is an interim in Jackson County but wants a top spot, and he is worried about possible privatization there. He likes the idea of being along the East Coast, and would plan to stay at the Office “as long as possible”, according to the Committee meeting minutes.
In forwarding his nomination to the state Commission, the local Search Committee also ordered a basic investigation of Pietak’s background. Those documents show that many people spoke about Pietak positively, as someone who was easy to get along with, skilled in his profession, and engaged in questioning and information seeking relating to putting together a comprehensive death investigation. One colleague even mentioned the only reason he didn’t want Pietak to get the District Four position is that he would want to see him become the Chief in Jackson County. Another said Pietak was very well respected for his work.
Several former colleagues did express concerns about his effectiveness specifically as an administrator, though. A few described him as someone who competently executed assignments, but never actively sought more. One of those characterizations came from the former Chief in Jackson County, who supervised Pietak up through late last year.
Pietak has worked in a few places professionally, according to his resume. From 1999-2011 he was the Assistant Medical Examiner in Wayne County, and from 2011 through now he has been in Jackson County. Most of the time in Jackson County has been as a Deputy Medical Examiner, although he became the interim Chief earlier this year.
The District Four Chief Medical Examiner position is open because of the resignation of the prior interim Chief, Valerie Rao. She formally resigned from the post last year in order to spend more time with family, however she has stayed on as a contract employee of the City, continuing to serve as interim Chief Medical Examiner while this search has taken place.
Her employment contract went in to effect October 1, and is valid through July 31st, but can be terminated early. The contract is built on fixed fees per autopsy service and per week of performance. In all, she’s eligible for up to $365,000 over the ten months, according to the contract document. Employment records from the City of Jacksonville show that her annual salary at the time she resigned was $279,999.96. Speaking previously with WOKV, Rao said she believed the pay from her contract is fair, because the position does not include healthcare, and she also has substantial travel requirements.
As of this week, the City says Rao has been paid $270,000 under the employment contract.
The Search Committee put the salary cap for the new Chief Medical Examiner at $343,000.
Pietak’s nomination will go to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who makes the formal appointment.