Doug McKown expects to return to his job as York County coroner Monday morning.
Barring a contrary legal finding from the state attorney general's office, his transition back to the post should be smooth.
As first reported Thursday afternoon at heraldonline.com, McKown and York County Manager Jim Baker met late Wednesday to discuss McKown's job status. Both men agreed that McKown would delay resuming his duties so the county could sort through the legal details.
"He understands the awkwardness this creates for the office and the other employees and everybody else involved," Baker said. "And so I think that it just made good sense."
At issue is whether a misdemeanor conviction can keep McKown out of office. Gov. Mark Sanford suspended McKown from his elected post in July 2006, a day after McKown was indicted on two felony cocaine charges.
But last week, McKown was acquitted of those charges, although he was found guilty of unlawfully possessing a prescription drug, a charge stemming from half a pill of Viagra that police found during a search of his home on May 12, 2006.
The verdict sparked confusion among county leaders. They didn't know if McKown should be the coroner or if the position belonged to interim coroner Sabrina Gast, the woman Sanford appointed to replace McKown in September 2006.
Because of the predicament, the county's attorney on Wednesday sent a formal request for an opinion to the state attorney general's office -- the same agency that prosecuted McKown's drug case.
Gast said Thursday that McKown will take over unless she hears differently from the attorney general's office.
"I have enjoyed working in the office," she said. "I've enjoyed working with the staff and working with the members of the community here. I think that we have done a lot of work to increase the integrity and professionalism of the office, and I'm very proud of what we have done."
McKown's term expires at the end of this year. Gast, a Republican, is running for coroner, along with Democrats Jim Chapman and Pete Skidmore.
McKown, who in the past ran as a Republican, decided not to file for re-election earlier this year, saying he had more important things to worry about.
On Thursday, McKown said he didn't know what the attorney general's office would have to say about the matter, but he cautioned that anything the agency provided would be nothing more than an opinion.
"Notwithstanding some unexpected details in the law that I quite frankly don't think exist," McKown said, "I'll be back to work Monday morning."
When asked about McKown's status Wednesday, Mark Plowden, a spokesman for the attorney general's office responded to The Herald via e-mail: "We are not the arbiters of suspended offices. The governor suspended him, that office can advise him on when he may regain his office. If not, you or he may consult with the county attorney, who is more than qualified to answer your question. Either way, we are not going on the record unless we are asked by the county to advise the county in the form of a written opinion."
The county had not received a response Thursday afternoon.
McKown was appointed to the coroner's post in December 1994 when the former coroner stepped down. McKown was the youngest coroner in the state at the time of his appointment. He was elected to a full term in 1996. He was re-elected in 2000 and 2004.
While in office, his main job was to investigate all unexplained or unattended deaths, including homicides, suicides and accidents. He also signed death certificates and determined causes of death.
Since his suspension, McKown, 39, has continued working in the mortuary industry, first in Columbia and recently in Gastonia, N.C.