A low-profile contest for Lexington County coroner is erupting into an exchange of insults as it nears the end.
Republican incumbent Margaret Fisher and challenger Frank Barron are calling each other unfit for the job of overseeing investigations of nearly 2,000 violent and unexpected deaths that occur in the 758-square-mile county each year.
Their volleys over style come in the only countywide match on the Nov. 8 ballot.
Barron, who’s running as a Constitution Party candidate, insists Fisher often is “crude and disrespectful” in dealing with relatives of those who died, claims she says are “ginned up for political purposes” that ignore a bulletin board full of thank-you notes in her office.
So far, no one who has dealt with Fisher has stepped forward to back up Barron. But he insists that families are spreading the word quietly in his favor.
In some respects, the name-calling is a continuation of an unsuccessful challenge to Fisher in the June 14 Republican Party primary election.
Barron now has the support of former deputy Glenn Ross, whose campaign never gained traction with similar charges against Fisher in the primary.
That race was overshadowed by the match to replace veteran Solicitor Donnie Myers, retiring as chief prosecutor after a state record of 40 years.
The barrage of barbs under way includes:
Staff turnover: Fisher has gone through 22 aides – twice the size of the staff – since voters in mid-2014 chose her over Barron and five others to replace the late Harry Harman in the post.
That is a sign of poor management, Barron said. “She cannot get along with anybody.”
Part of that is due to change that new leadership brings, Fisher said. “I hold my staff to high standards, and that means not being afraid to replace employees who don’t meet those standards.”
Phony credentials: Fisher has called her training as a nurse a plus, but stops short of saying she worked in the profession.
Barron says that’s because he’s been told and social media posts say she failed tests required to be eligible to help with medical care.
Fisher denies that, calling it “mudslinging, pure and simple.” She didn’t practice because she married and went to work with her husband in his construction business instead, she has said.
Fundraising: Fisher is largely self-financing her campaign that has cost slightly more than $19,000 so far, slightly more than half of what Barron has reported.
Barron calls that her strategy a necessity because of unpopularity. “Her husband's buying the office of coroner as a toy for her to play cop with her uniform, badge and semiautomatic weapon on her hip,” he said.
Fisher, a former Richland County deputy, dismisses the comment as “another example of the outlandish things Barron will say.”
Barron also is promoting examples of what he calls Fisher’s quirkiness.
She briefly posted a comment on social media about singing “Happy Birthday” to a corpse. “Often, grieving families make special requests of our office, and I make a special effort to accommodate them,” she said.
A kitten kept at her office for therapy became the center of a showdown Fisher won versus other county leaders over limiting access to her office.
That conflict led to increased security to protect crime scene evidence after she learned her office was entered quietly to verify the animal’s presence. She won’t say where the kitten is now.
Barron is attempting to resurrect a political career that ended when he lost a re-election bid in 2000 after 22 years as coroner in neighboring Richland County.
This is his third bid to become coroner in Lexington County in the past four years, even though he said, “I’ll never run for another office,” after losing to Fisher two years ago.
But he’s upset at what he calls her lack of professionalism. Running as the nominee of the tiny Constitution Party enabled him to sidestep the GOP primary that he previously was unable to win.
Barron’s challenge is producing a fresh set of complaints that he has become a perennial candidate as well as reminders that when he was Richland County coroner, there were some controversies over decisions and personal financial troubles he says are now resolved.
He is promoting ideas such as assigning assistants to sections of the county to assure quicker response, saying he studies to remain up-to-date on what coroners do.
Fisher counters that the job has changed greatly since Barron had it, and said he doesn’t know “the ins and outs” of the county as she does.
Tim Flach: 803-771-8483
Personal: 72, divorced, lives in West Columbia, investor and real estate broker
Public service: Richland County coroner, 1978-2000
Personal: 52, married, lives in Red Bank, raises horses and other animals that appear in church and community gatherings
Public service: Lexington County coroner since late 2014, Richland County deputy 2008-2014