Berrien County Commissioners commend Sheriff Bailey for years of work

Published 4:00 pm Friday, September 15, 2023

ST. JOSEPH – Berrien County Sheriff Paul Bailey is more than three months away from his retirement, but Berrien County Commissioners are already paying tribute to his years of service and talking about his successor.

Bailey announced earlier this year in February that he was not only not going to seek re-election in 2024 but that he planned to retire at the end of 2023. He has been sheriff for 23 years and in law enforcement for over four decades.

The first tribute to Bailey came from Commissioner Dave Vollrath who reported that Bailey has officially sent out a letter announcing his retirement at the end of the year.

“He’s seen a lot, done a lot and knows a lot of people,” Vollrath said. “He has kind words for his department and the rest of the county staff.”

County Administrator Brian Dissette also praised Bailey for his service to the county. He specifically noted Bailey’s efforts the last year after the Sheriff’s Department took over the enforcement side of Animal Control.

“He will be getting a ton of thank yous in coming months but I couldn’t be happier with the time he’s invested into the animal control operation,” Dissette said.

Vollrath said a committee made up of the county prosecutor, county clerk and the probate judge will decide on who will replace Bailey Jan. 1. Undersheriff Chuck Heit has expressed interest in being named interim sheriff and has said he plans to run for sheriff in 2024. Niles Township resident Rick Briand has also said he is running for sheriff.

More information was given on the process by Bailey himself after resident Melissa Clapper asked that the public be made aware of the process. Clapper asked if the position will be posted and what the process will be to choose the interim sheriff.

Bailey said the three member committee mentioned above can decide the process including whether they will take letters of applications. He said the decision is up to the committee and they are not required to ask for applications or get public input.

In other news related to the sheriff’s department, Vollrath reported that the county jail is currently dealing with overcrowding. He said the jail has been near the capacity threshold or over it this week and the sheriff’s department is working with the courts to see who can be released a little early.

Possible changes coming to a section of Napier Avenue in Benton Township were discussed at both the county board meeting and the Committee of the Whole meeting held earlier Thursday morning.

Kevin Stack from the Berrien County Road Department said the state is ready to turn over jurisdiction of a section of Napier between I-94 and U.S. 31 to the county. He said there is much less traffic on that part of the road with the opening of more of U.S. 31 going north. The jurisdiction transfer will be accompanied by $1.8 million in state funding.

While Stack talked about putting that section of Napier on a “road diet” and changing it from five to three lanes, others including County Board Chairman McKinley Elliott were skeptical. Elliott and others said that the area is prime for development and they would oppose tearing out the five lanes only to have to put them back later.

Also Thursday, commissioners approved a rate increase for Berrien Bus public transportation. The new rates take effect Oct. 1. Individual fares will be $6 with the elderly and disabled charged half that amount. Rates for human services agencies will also go up.