FORSYTH COUNTY — Calling their appearance the opening act to the much-anticipated sheriff’s debate that followed, the two men seeking to be Forsyth County’s next coroner discussed several issues tied to the post Wednesday night.
Candidates Stan Rutledge, the county’s deputy coroner, and Lauren McDonald III, who held the office earlier this decade, emphasized their experience during opening statements.
“The main reason I’m running for the office is the experience, the experience that I served this county [as coroner] for 12 years from 2001 to 2012,” McDonald said. “I think that’s the most qualifying thing that one needs as far as when you run for coroner.”
McDonald is also a former firefighter and owner of McDonald and Son Funeral Home. He did not seek a fourth four-year term in 2012, instead running unsuccessfully for sheriff.
Rutledge has worked as a paramedic for more than 33 years, including 30 with Gwinnett Fire and Rescue, and is a graduate of Georgia Coroner School.
“I’ve been a deputy coroner [in Forsyth] for three and a half years. I’m an associate pastor and my heart leads me and my experience, my education leads me to help the deceased, their families and to determine a manner and cause of death,” he said.
The county’s current coroner, Mary Beth Pais, is not seeking re-election. There are no Democrats in the race, so the next coroner will be chosen in the May 24 Republican Primary.
Among the duties of the coroner’s office is to determine cause, manner and circumstance of death under the Georgia Death Investigation Act. The coroner works closely with the sheriff’s office.
Wednesday’s debate was organized by the Forsyth County Republican Party and moderated by B.J. Van Gundy, former chair of the Gwinnett County GOP.
It was a relaxed environment, with both candidates describing the other as a friend and declining to answer a question on the negative aspects of their opponent.
One area of disagreement was over the team each candidate would assemble if elected.
“I would keep the same that [we’ve] probably got now, because they’re all medical or investigative backgrounds. They do a great job,” Rutledge said.
McDonald countered that the issue “was one of the most important things when deciding to run.”
“I reached out to someone that was my instructor 16 years ago that taught the coroner curriculum that sort of developed where it is today,” said McDonald, who didn’t name the person.
During his closing remarks, Rutledge said though he was friends with McDonald, he felt it was a conflict of interest to run both a funeral home and serve as coroner.
McDonald has previously pointed out that such a situation is somewhat common across Georgia.