Berrien County commissioners hire new corporate council

Published 1:10 pm Thursday, December 16, 2021

ST. JOSEPH – It was a full agenda for Berrien County Commissioners at their last meeting of 2021. The county board will next meet on Jan. 6 after the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

Commissioners formally hired Thaddeus Hackworth as the new corporate counsel for the county. Hackworth is a St. Joseph native who recently moved back to the area after spending most of his legal career in New York City. He was one of two finalists for the job interviewed by the board last week.

The county has had the corporate counsel position filled on an interim basis since March 2020 when James McGovern resigned the post. Retired Berrien County Judge John Dewane had filled that post for much of that time period before his death earlier this fall.

The contract with Hackworth runs for three years starting Jan. 1, 2022, through Dec. 31, 2024. His base salary will be $128,000 with annual increases given that are the equivalent of the increases other appointed officials receive.

County Administrator Brian Dissette welcomed Hackworth on behalf of the county administrative staff.

“I can’t tell you how happy the staff is to get him in house, we are looking forward to working with him,” he said.

Hackworth attended the meeting.

“I’m honored to be selected and I look forward to working with you,” he said.

In other news, commissioners did hear a report about the county’s response to recent threats again area schools.

County Commissioner Dave Vollrath reported that the board’s administration committee heard from Berrien County Prosecutor Steve Pierangeli earlier in the morning. Pierangeli told committee members that he’s meeting with area school superintendents and personnel on a daily basis as he and county law enforcement investigate threats.

“Each one is taken very seriously,” Vollrath said. “Kids who are doing this don’t realize how crazy things are and how seriously we’re taking them. Mental health people are being brought in to speak with the kids. Some are joking around but others are making serious threats.”

In other action Thursday, commissioners approved a new three-year contract with communication center supervisors who are represented by the Police Officers Labor Council. That contract runs Jan. 1, 2022, through Dec. 31, 2024.

The Berrien County Road Department has a new interim head after county board action. Commissioners appointed Kevin Stack as the new interim department head starting Jan. 1. Stack is a longtime road department employee. His salary will be $97,266.

The department has been without a permanent director after the county parted ways with Jason Latham earlier this year. The county board hired Abonmarche Engineering to provide department leadership since then.

The county road department director post is one of two personnel posts Dissette is still looking to fill in the coming months. He must also find a new permanent County Health Officer.

Also Thursday:

  • Commissioners renewed the county’s agreement with the Riverwood Center for psychiatric services for juveniles and families served by the Berrien County Trial Court as well as amended the contract with Riverwood for Juvenile Center residents.
  • Renewed the contract with Andrews University for drug lab services,
  • Established a stand-alone commissary fund for jail inmates,
  • Authorized a salary increase for non-union employees,
  • Accepted grant funds for emergency management and the health department’s medical marijuana outreach.