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Candidates for coroner meet
Trio tout their past experience
Coroner WEB 1
Timekeeper Joel Natt, second from left, speaks with coroner candidates Harold Bennett, left, Mark Musselwhite and Mary Beth Pais before their debate Wednesday at the Forsyth County Administration Building. - photo by Autumn Vetter

Death can be a difficult topic to discuss, but Forsyth County’s three candidates for coroner talked about their plans for the office if elected.

The Wednesday night debate, held by the Forsyth County Republican Party, was the first meeting for Harold Bennett, Mark Musselwhite and Mary Beth Pais. It followed a similar forum on the race for Forsyth County sheriff.

The three are vying for the position being vacated by Lauren McDonald, who is running for sheriff.

Musselwhite, a local funeral director, said the platform for coroner candidates to debate is a “unique opportunity.”

The position is important, Pais said, but not one people want to talk about or see.

The crowd dwindled after the sheriff’s debate, but the three coroner candidates were thankful for the audience of about 40.

Bennett began by describing his years of experience, including 23 in a medical examiner’s office, 20 in the military and more than 30 as a nurse.

Pais said her credentials make her the “most qualified candidate,” including more than 30 years as a registered nurse, being on call as a deputy coroner in Alabama and being on the nursing faculty at Georgia State University.

Both Pais and Bennett are also trained medical-legal death investigators.

Musselwhite said the knowledge gained from those fields is good background, but not needed to be a coroner in Forsyth.

Investigators in the sheriff’s office work in conjunction with the coroner, who relays the information to the Georgia Bureau of Investigations and the public, Musselwhite said, adding that his background qualifies him to do that.

“Being a coroner and a funeral director are not so different,” he said. “They both require that you’re on call 24 hours … They both are very physically and emotionally demanding jobs. They both require someone who can show compassion to loved ones of the deceased.”

Pais disagreed that the medical background isn’t necessary.

“Having that knowledge base is extremely valuable,” she said. “If you were to attend the classes that I have and Mr. Bennett has, you will find that it is imperative that you have a thorough knowledge of medical care and surgical care.”

In response to Bennett’s emphasis on his medical examiner background, Pais said those investigators handle a crime scene, but her concern as coroner would lie with the deceased.

Bennett said he’s not promoting the medical examiner system, often used instead of a coroner position, in Forsyth because the population isn’t large enough.

“I have participated in numerous autopsies, and I have seen how a medical examiner works,” he said, “so I can bring that knowledge and expertise to the office of coroner in Forsyth County, and thereby enhancing the quality that the citizens will receive.”

All three candidates discussed converting the office to a computerized system to increase efficiency and planning to use the deputy coroner services less, which costs the county additional money.