Jacksonville Medical Examiner responds to complaints

Valerie Rao applies to keep current job

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - For months, Jacksonville Medical Examiner Valerie Rao has been the center of complaints from former employees and current city staffers about the operations of the office, so much so that the city released documents last week that once again question if Rao is the right person for the job.

Rao was appointed by the governor in 2010. That appointment is now up for renewal. She has applied, along with others, and Rao spoke Tuesday to give her side of things.

She pointed out construction going on at the office, which is getting an upgrade after Rao said she finally convinced the city the changes were needed.

"I think it's lack of understanding," Rao said. "They don't know. I wish they came and spent a day here. Even people that oversee this department directly don't know what we do, why we do."

The city's recently released documents concerning questionable behavior by Rao point to employees who have left the office, either resigning or retiring. Some said they left because of lack of leadership.

Rao said it's the nature of the job at that office. She said people can make more money in other cities.

"It's a stepping stone to furthering a career to come and work in the morgue," Rao said. "It is a dead-end job."

DOCUMENT: Valerie Rao's letter defending her job

Rao has been accused of making racist comments. She said that is just hearsay.

When asked what she thinks is happening, Rao said, "That's what I would love to know. I don't know. There is somebody with an agenda out there, and I wish I knew but I don't."

Asked if she think it's city officials, she said, "Not the finance committee. They're the ones that helped us."

There have also been concerns raised about money the office is generating by selling eye and other tissues. Rao said that's what the city wants it to do.

"We don't make any money," Rao said. "It's all going. Whatever money we make, every dime goes to the city. We do not see one check coming through this office. Not one. It goes directly to the city."

Rao's methods of performing autopsies are also in question. Some complain she does not always wear gloves.

"That's the most ridiculous allegations I have ever heard," Rao said. "In my 33 years of doing this, I have never done autopsies without the use of gloves. Ever. If there is anybody that has ever seen it, I would love that person to come forward."

So now she is applying to keep her job.

"I think if I did not apply I would be a coward," Rao said.

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