Columbia County’s medical examiner said she was asked Tuesday to resign, two months after she was placed on administrative leave, without a written explanation why.
Angela Hinze, who’s worked for the county for 15 years, received a letter Nov. 16 that said county board Chairman Vern Gove was placing her on paid leave “effective immediately” — again with no reason — “pending the completion of an investigation conducted by Columbia County Corporation Counsel and Human Resources.”
“It’s been horrible for me,” Hinze said, “because I can’t help the people of the county in which I serve right now, in the middle of a pandemic. We’ve had our highest call volume of my career this year, and I can’t help my staff, because I can’t have any contact with my staff.”
Neither Gove nor Joseph Ruf, the county’s corporation counsel and human resources director, have responded to numerous messages from the Daily Register seeking confirmation.
The county’s Human Resources Committee met in closed session Friday to discuss the management and organization of the Medical Examiner and Facilities Management departments. It took action in open session following the meeting, said Adam Field, committee chairman and District 5 supervisor, but he declined to say exactly what that action was and referred further questions to Ruf, who has not responded.
“I don’t want to get too far into that, because legally we’re restricted and I don’t want to say anything I’m not supposed to about employees,” Field said, later adding, “The committee directed the HR director, Mr. Ruf, to proceed as discussed in closed session.”
The Medical Examiner’s office has to be able to respond to calls 24/7, Hinze said. Duties include conducting scene investigations, conducting examinations prior to cremation to ensure evidence isn’t destroyed, assisting with tissue donations and calling families to console or notify them of lab or autopsy reports. Autopsies, which require a forensic pathologist, are conducted by the Dane County Medical Examiner’s office but Columbia County staff have to transport the body and be present during the examination, she added.
Before she was put on leave, the office had received about 615 calls, over 100 more than a typical year due to the coronavirus pandemic, Hinze said. Thirty-three Columbia County residents have died from COVID-19 since March and at least six more residents who were probable COVID-19 cases have died, according to the county Health and Human Services Department.
Hinze used to be on call 12 hours a day, six days a week. Without her, she said the office is left with one full-time and three part-time workers.
“I feel bad for my staff. I feel bad for the people that are losing family members that I can’t reach out and communicate to,” she said. “I mean, that’s the hard part of it as a medical professional. It sickens me that I can’t be there to help.”
Katelyn Schara, former chief deputy of the office, identified herself as acting medical examiner Wednesday. When asked to confirm if Hinze was on leave, Schara said, “I guess I can’t confirm or deny. All I can say is that she’s unavailable at this time, and if you have any other questions, you’ll have to ask corporation counsel.”
Hinze is also supposed to serve on the state’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Task Force, but the contact information she needs is out of reach on her former work computer, as are documents she kept for community groups on suicide and drug overdose. She said she had to turn in all of her county property Nov. 16 and has not been allowed to contact any current or former staff from the examiner’s office, nor any staff involved in the investigation.
On Tuesday, the county asked her to resign, offering a severance package for which she doesn’t yet have the details. It would typically include a payout for unused benefits, she said. Hinze is now waiting for the county to provide a reason in writing.
Prior to being put on leave, Hinze said no one informed her about any issues with her job performance and that her performance evaluations, conducted by the corporation counsel, were always positive.
Hinze said she’s spent 32 years as a nurse. Being put on administrative leave has harmed her career and reputation, she said, noting that false rumors have been spread about her.
“All I know is how to help people, and this right now in the middle of a COVID pandemic where it’s stressful enough and there’s uncertainty that people have, I’m — I’m so heartbroken,” Hinze said. “I’m heartbroken.”
Portage area views of the pandemic in 2020
Gov. Tony Evers ordered Wisconsinites to stay in their homes starting the week of March 25, 2020, to fend off the coronavirus outbreak that is ravaging populations worldwide. Businesses deemed non-essential closed and schools turned to virtual instruction. The following photo galleries reflect back on the changes that took place in Columbia County and the surrounding area last year.
Downtown Portage sidewalks were almost deserted on Thursday morning. Most businesses are closed due to the "safer at home" order and social di…
The Portage Community School District has distributed breakfasts and lunches to children during the public health emergency.
Pardeeville High School held a graduation parade to celebrate its class of 2020 seniors on May 23. Residents lined the streets surrounding the…
Portage High School held a socially-distanced, drive-by graduation ceremony Friday where seniors along with their families in vehicles were es…
While state campgrounds are closed until June 10, private campgrounds have offered recreational opportunities since at least April. Pools, cam…
Pictured June 29, Museum at the Portage on MacFarlane Road is preparing to reopen starting July 8 with new cleaning procedures, social distanc…
The Portage School Board approved the district's reopening plan at a special meeting July 27 at the district administration building. Several …
A group of Portage High School students, led by teacher Sarah Pulliam, walked to St. Marys Cemetery around noon Friday to place flags on veter…
Fave 5: Reporter Susan Endres shares her top stories of 2020
We reporters at Capital Newspapers have been asked to share our five favorite, most memorable or otherwise noteworthy stories from 2020, a year I think many of us would prefer to forget. As tempting as it was to choose only stories from the before (COVID) times, I compiled a list spanning the year that ranges from education in Baraboo and Portage to the local impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. This year has been nothing if not historic.
And yes, of course I chose more than five. I wouldn't be Susan Endres if I was decisive.
We've seen dramatic changes to our daily lives, but through it all, we continue to report on the important happenings in our community and hold the powerful to account.
Here's hoping for a better 2021.
Sauk and Columbia County residents struggle to make ends meet as they face barriers with unemployment amid shutdown.
News of a Baraboo child’s suicide mobilized the community, not just in efforts to find her before her death was known, but also to address men…
History will surely remember the coronavirus pandemic, but almost two dozen residents in Portage and Baraboo want to ensure that its effect on…
Despite a still unsolved murder this fall at Devil’s Lake State Park, local law enforcement authorities say the park remains “very safe.”
More teachers are moving from district to district than in the past, according to several area teachers and administrators. Some are strugglin…
A one-day pop-up shop at Portage High School offered cookies, chocolates and candy in exchange for acts of kindness in February.
Sans the usual hugs and visible smiles, students and their families arrived at Gordon L. Willson Elementary School nervous and excited about s…
Follow Susan Endres on Twitter @EndresSusan or call her at 745-3506.