Berrien County Commissioners honor retiring Sheriff Bailey

Published 6:20 pm Thursday, December 7, 2023

ST. JOSEPH – There was a passing of the torch at Thursday’s Berrien County Board of Commissioners meeting. People gathered to honor Sheriff Paul Bailey who is retiring at the end of this month and to welcome Undersheriff Chuck Heit as the interim sheriff starting Jan. 1.

      Heit was chosen as the interim sheriff Nov. 22 by the Berrien County Sheriff Appointment Committee from a field of five applicants. Heit is a New Buffalo resident and has been the undersheriff for 21 years. He has also announced his intention to run next November for a full four year term as sheriff.

      Bailey announced his retirement earlier this year and has been receiving accolades from area boards and organizations since then. Thursday was the county board’s turn to say their thanks for his years of service to the county.

      County Commissioner Jim Curran, who represents Niles Township on the board and is a retired state trooper, read the county board’s resolution honoring Bailey. The resolution recounted the events of Bailey’s life and all he has done for the county during his 40 years in law enforcement.

      Bailey, an Eau Claire native, graduated from Eau Claire High School in 1975 and the Kalamazoo College Police Academy in 1979. He served with local departments for a few years before joining the sheriff’s department. He was elected Berrien County Sheriff in 2000.

      “WHEREAS, he was an excellent leader to over 200 men and women serving the residents of Berrien County every day and he never hesitated to work right beside them for some good old fashioned, hands on, police work,” Curran read from the resolution.

      “And whereas, beyond the badge he was active in the communities and organizations across the County and not only active, but selfless of his time and talents for the good of others; and whereas, he has also achieved success in the most important role that he has, that of family man with his wife, children and grandchildren,” Curran read.

      The resolution concluded by calling Bailey a “true asset” to the residents of Berrien County and lauded the role he played in promoting public safety, health, well-being and prosperity for present and future generations.

      Bailey thanked everyone for their support of him and of the department over the years. The county board meeting room Thursday was filled to capacity with family, friends and co-workers.

      “It’s been a wonderful career, I’ve had wonderful people I surrounded myself by,” he said. “I wouldn’t have been able to do this job on my own. I’ve been blessed to be sheriff for 23 years … We’ve all worked together to make Berrien County one of the best places to live in Michigan and I think it is the best place to live.”

      “We have so many good things happening here and so many good people doing good things,” he added. “I want to thank this board and past boards for giving me the funding  and support to run the department and recognizing that Berrien County cannot be what it is without law enforcement.”

      “It’s been an honor to be the sheriff of Berrien County,” he said. “I leave it in good hands with Undersheriff Chuck Heit. I feel very confident about the sheriff’s office carrying on with everything we’ve done.”

        Others honoring Bailey Thursday were Heit, retired Berrien County Trial Judge Dennis Wiley and Jail Chaplain Jay Haynes.

      Heit thanked Bailey’s family for all the sacrifices they’ve made to allow Bailey to serve the people of the county. He noted that Bailey regularly worked 70 hours a week serving people whenever and wherever he could. “It will be huge shoes to fill,” he said.

      Judge Wiley noted that Bailey was starting out in law enforcement at the same time he was starting out as a young assistant prosecutor. He said that Bailey has always served the community and gone above and beyond. He told about how Bailey was out on the road a year ago pulling someone out of a ditch during a bad winter storm.

      “We acknowledge the passing of the torch from one obedient servant to another,” Haynes said. “We give thanks for the years of hard work, service, sacrifice and leadership that shaped our community. His unwavering dedication, integrity and valor has set an example for all who serve under the badge.”

      A retirement open house will be held for Bailey on Dec. 27 from 1-4 p.m. at the F.O.P. lodge 96.

      Another longtime public servant was also honored Thursday with a moment of silence. Retired Berrien County Parks Director Brian Bailey died unexpectedly this week at age 57 after a battle with cancer. Brian Bailey served for many years in the county parks department and spearheaded the additions of new county parks before his retirement in 2020.