County Commission approves new contract with ETSU forensics

Published 8:33 am Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Since taking office in September, Carter County Mayor Rusty Barnett said one of his biggest undertakings so far has been the negotiations with East Tennessee State University in regards to autopsy services.

And during Monday’s county commission meeting, the mayor and some of the commissioners felt steps were taken in the right direction as the commission voted to approve a proposed contract from ETSU for autopsy services for the county.

The new 18-month contract has some big differences from the one the county approved in October. The original October contract, which had a base cost of  $113,592, was for 12 months and included a provision that put a cap on the number of autopsies the ETSU William L. Jenkins Forensics Center would perform before extra cost would accrue. That cap was 67 autopsies and for every autopsy that went over that limit, the county would have been charged $1,800. With there already being 62 autopsies that have been performed by the medical examiner at ETSU this year for Carter County, a cap of 67 was alarming for county leaders.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The proposed contract from ETSU that was approved Tuesday by the commission has no cap on the number of autopsies. The base price of the contract did increase from October’s. The new contract has a cost of $178,614 to be paid out each month at $9,923.37 a month. The monthly cost increased $456.45 from the October contract.

While working to get a contract that both sides felt was fair, the Carter County Commission approved two extensions on the current agreement with ETSU. The October contract never went into action, and the new contract, if signed by ETSU, will take effect on January 1, 2019.

Barnett said that he and other mayors from neighboring counties were on the same page in regards to the issue and that played a big part in getting a better contract with ETSU.

“With no cap, this is a win-win for the county,” said Barnett. “We have eight mayors in our region, and seven out of the eight were on board. Sullivan County has their own medical examiner so they are not going to be involved. We were all on the same page and that played a part in getting us a better deal.”

The contract also included a clause requiring the forensics center to provide the county mayor with reports detailing “use of service, quality of death investigations, and areas of improvement when necessary.”

The contract is just one part of an ongoing issue between the counties and the ETSU forensics center. In October, the Carter County Commission passed a resolution to petition the Tennessee State General Assembly to amend the Tennessee Post-Mortem Act so that only local district attorneys, with the assistance from local law enforcement, have the authority to call for autopsies. As the law currently stands, medical examiners can call for autopsies.

There has been a documented rise in the number of autopsies that have been performed for Carter County by ETSU over the past decade.

In 2006, there were just 12 autopsies performed for the county. In 2017, there were 62.

Here are the year-by-year numbers since 2006:

2006 — 12 cases

2007 — 28 cases

2008 — 23 cases

2009 — 38 cases

2010 — 35 cases

2011 — 34 cases

2012 — 36 cases

2013 — 30 cases

2014 — 27 cases

2015 — 63 cases

2016 — 66 cases

2017 — 62 cases

The above numbers were provided to the Elizabethton Star by ETSU.

October’s resolution to ask that state law be changed caught the eye of other local mayors and county governments, and Barnett said that other counties are following suit in asking the state to amend the law on who can call for autopsies.

According to Barnett, Johnson County has already passed a resolution featuring the same language as Carter County’s.


During Tuesday’s meeting, the county commission voted to approve spending up to $6,500 to help, along with the city, pay for an environmental and geological survey on a piece of property that Snap-On is looking to purchase for an expansion which could bring in an estimated 20 jobs.

The property is located near Snap-On on State Line Road.


The commission also voted 23-0 to allow the Carter County Drug Prevention to use a Carter County Sheriff’s Department trailer for the organization’s “In Plain Sight” drug awareness project. The project will demonstrate how young adults and children can hide drugs and drug paraphernalia from their parents.