Supervisors revisit death transport, Jake Brake discussions
No action taken on either matter
The Marshall County Board of Supervisors returned to a pair of familiar topics of discussion during Tuesday morning’s regular meeting at the Election Center but ultimately did not take action on either.
The matter of requesting bids for death transportations, which was also discussed two weeks ago at the last meeting, was removed from the table, and Jody Anderson and Brandon Lenehan of Anderson Funeral Homes were on hand to make the case that the county should continue to utilize the Anderson and Mitchell funeral homes — both based in Marshalltown — for the service in the future.
The conversation began with Board Chairman Dave Thompson reading an email from Mark Bethel, a medical examiner investigator for Marshall County, regarding the issues at hand and the previous meeting. Anderson’s biggest concern was the supervisors sending out a request for bids for decedent transport to 58 funeral homes and EMS organizations after operating on what has been described as a “gentleman’s agreement” with Anderson and Mitchell in the past, and county reimbursement for indigent individuals was also touched on to a lesser extent.
Anderson worried about potentially negative consequences if an institution or organization from outside of Marshall County took over the transport job, which sometimes requires trips to the State Medical Examiner’s Office in Ankeny if an autopsy is needed, along with preservation of the body. He estimated he and Mitchell had been involved in about 60 death investigations and 20 trips to Ankeny in the last 12 months.
“I don’t think the board clearly thought through the ramifications of having an outside provider provide this service to the county. I don’t know why or how or who got you to that point that we’re just gonna send this bid out without coming back to Marty (Mitchell) and I,” he said.
Referencing the previous discussion on Jake Brakes, Anderson said he had looked at what surrounding counties pay for the service, and most were at $695 for a round trip to Ankeny and back. Currently, he and Mitchell receive $395 per trip. Lenehan, who himself is a former law enforcement officer in Marshall County, also provided data from that perspective, and according to Anderson, the average response time for he and Mitchell was 39.5 minutes.
In concluding his initial remarks, Anderson said he would be “fine” if the supervisors no longer wished to utilize he and Mitchell’s services, but he recommended continuing under the current arrangement and increasing the reimbursement to be more in line with surrounding counties, citing the 57 years of combined experience between himself and Mitchell.
“I think if you go around and ask Sheriff Phillips, Chief Tupper, Ben (Veren), Courtney (Watson), they ain’t gonna want to wait for someone coming from miles away, which is gonna tie up more resources and more money,” Anderson said. “What if that person from wherever comes and the roads and they can’t make it? This is gonna sound mean, (but) don’t call Marty and me. This is what you guys want.”
From there, Anderson segued into the indigent burial issue and told the story of a recent case, which prompted Thompson to ask why Dr. David Bethel, the county medical examiner and Mark Bethel’s father, had not been contacted. Currently, Marshall County is the only county in Iowa that does not have an official indigent burial reimbursement policy, and they are generally handled on a case by case basis. If individuals have a living relative or spouse, the county does not typically reimburse the provider of the burial service.
According to Anderson, Dr. Bethel had told him “I guess you’re gonna have to absorb it” on a previous call, so he didn’t bother contacting him regarding the most recent case when his reimbursement request was ultimately denied.
Thompson told Anderson that the Bethels were the ones who provided the Story County contract and modified it before sending it on to County Attorney Jordan Gaffney for review, and Thompson believed the easiest course of action would be to simply put in a bid.
“From a perspective of government, they have to put bids out to everybody. Everybody needs to get an opportunity for a bite at the apple. If you or anybody else chooses for some reason or another not to take that bite, that is your decision, not anybody else’s,” Thompson said. “All I can say is bid on this or not. That’s your choice.”
Fellow Supervisor Steve Salasek said he “couldn’t imagine” Dr. Bethel telling Anderson he would have to eat the cost of an indigent burial, and Thompson was hesitant to discuss the alleged remark when Dr. Bethel wasn’t there to confirm or deny that he said it. Thompson reported that a pair of county officials “strenuously recommended” there was no written policy on indigent burials and that each one be handled on a case by case basis by the medical examiner.
Marshall County Emergency Management Director Kim Elder and 911 Communications Director Rhonda Braudis also weighed in, with Elder praising local funeral directors as “very cooperative” in the past and telling the board that first responding agencies should be consulted if a change is made.
As the discussion wrapped up, Anderson said he had a “tight knit” group of friends in the funeral business who had contacted him regarding the letters they received requesting a bid, and according to Anderson, none of them plan to submit one.
“Marty and I feel like we’ve done something wrong, and you don’t want to use us anymore,” Anderson said. “In conclusion, I’m just asking you to keep it local and do the right thing.”
In response, Thompson said he did not believe Anderson and Mitchell had done anything wrong, but he added that putting it out for bid came at the recommendation of David and Mark Bethel.
“If they walk out the door, there is an epic problem,” Thompson said.
Salasek did not wish to “alienate” Anderson and Mitchell, and Patten expressed optimism that the matter would be worked out in the end. Thompson did ask, however, if there was an issue between the funeral home directors and the medical examiner, and Anderson said there was not, remarking that he performed funeral services for Dr. Bethel’s mother. Both Anderson and Lenehan said Dr. Bethel was unaware of the letter going out, and Thompson said Mark Bethel provided it. No action was ultimately taken.
During a subsequent interview, Mitchell said he believed the current system was working, and he did not see any reason to change it.
“I think for both of us, we were very, very content at just leaving everything the way it was, and with the rotation or families specifically calling us, we could respond on that,” Mitchell said. “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”
David and Mark Bethel could not be reached for immediate comment.
No action on Jake Brakes
John Worden of Green Mountain attended a previous supervisors meeting and asked the board to consider an engine braking ordinance for semi trucks due to the loud noise they create when they pass through on Wallace Avenue.
One idea floated was placing signs against Jake Braking as a deterrent without adopting an official policy to see if it would have an impact, and County Engineer Paul Geilenfeldt estimated signs would cost about $330 each.
While individual communities in Marshall County do have ordinances banning the practice, Green Mountain is in a unique position as it is unincorporated — thus, the county would have to adopt a formal policy to make a change.
Sheriff Joel Phillips told the board that most cities the county provides law enforcement services to on a contract basis have engine braking ordinances, but he did express reservations about the potential for “unintended consequences” with a countywide ordinance.
“It’s engine brakes today. Is it loud exhaust pipes on motorcycles or cars tomorrow?” Phillips asked.
Patten shared Phillips’s concerns about the enforceability of an ordinance, and Salasek said he ultimately wasn’t looking for an ordinance but hoped truckers might be more considerate if signs were posted out of “the goodness of their hearts.” Thompson was concerned, however, that if signs were posted without an ordinance, residents would eventually demand that they be enforced.
“That’s a slippery slope we’re gonna get on,” Thompson said. “I would recommend, personally, if we’re going to do this, that there is an ordinance so there is some enforcement. I understand where you’re coming from, Steve… but if it’s just going to be a suggestion, I think later on, it’s going to become a problem for the sheriff’s department.”
Ultimately, Phillips told the board he would contact officials from other counties to see what ordinances they have on the books, and no action was taken.
IN OTHER BUSINESS, the board:
Recognized Secondary Roads Superintendent Brad Nichols with a 20-year service award.
Approved a change of status for Wes Spencer from MECH2 to MECH3 in the engineer’s department and a pay increase from $27.88 to $28.40 an hour.
Approved a contract agreement with Geilenfeldt through Nov. 30, 2025.
Approved the Elder Corporation proposal for a road improvement at Marshall Farms LLC/Kevin Blood Dairy Farm at a cost of $40,105.
Adopted a resolution for the abatement of taxes on seven mobile homes in the county, six in Marshalltown and one in State Center.
Approved a total of $121,449.38 in change orders on the courthouse project.
Approved the consent agenda as listed.