By Robert Tomlinson
CENTREVILLE — The first seven-member St. Joseph County Board of Commissioners in more than a decade is now ready for business.
On Tuesday, in their first meeting of 2023, all seven county commissioners were officially sworn in by County Clerk Lindsay Oswald, the first time since 2011 there has been that large of a board.
The makeup of the board comes after a change in apportionment approved by the county’s Apportionment Commission back in late 2021, which gives the county seven districts. Three of the seven commissioners – First District Commissioner Jared Hoffmaster, Fifth District Commissioner Dennis Allen and Sixth District Commissioner Ken Malone – are incumbents, while the other four are relative newcomers or returnees to the commission: Second District Commissioner Rick Shaffer, Third District Commissioner Rusty Baker, Fourth District Commissioner Luis Rosado and Seventh District Commissioner Terry Conklin.
As the first order of business Tuesday, commissioners appointed Malone, who is now in his third term as commissioner, as the new chairman of the county board following a nomination by Allen. Hoffmaster was nominated by Allen for Vice Chair, and received unanimous approval.
“Thank you all for the faith you’re putting in me, and I’ll try not to let you down too often,” Malone said.
Malone was previously the mayor of Sturgis from 2010-2016 prior to his election to the county commission in 2018. During commissioner comments, Malone said he is looking forward to working with the new group of commissioners.
“I think this is going to be a great group to work with. Some I’ve known longer than others, but most I’ve known for some time,” Malone said.
Many of the commissioners congratulated Malone on being the new chair, while also thanking voters for electing them to the position. Shaffer, who was previously on the county commission from 2000-2002 prior to his election as state representative in 2003, thanked Malone for his “willingness to serve” in his board comments, while also lobbying for more commissioners to be on the boards of different county agencies.
“Often times, in the reporting process back to the commission, it’s better to have a couple of subsidators rather than just singular people,” Shaffer said. Malone replied, saying he’s had conversations with County Administrator Teresa Doehring, and that talks are progressing on that front.
Allen, the former St. Joseph County Undersheriff now in his fourth term on the commission, congratulated Malone and welcomed the new commissioners, saying there’s a lot in progress going on that the new commissioners are inheriting.
“We’ve got a lot of things in the works, I would say, a lot of good things for the county that have been proposed and we’re trying to move forward on,” Allen said. “It might take all of us to catch up a little bit, but we’ve got a lot of things going.”
Hoffmaster, a local banker going into his second term on the commission, echoed the welcome to the new commissioners, and said he is “looking forward to doing the county’s business.”
“Going forward, I think it’s going to be a great year in 2023,” Hoffmaster said.
Rosado, a former Sturgis police officer, thanked not just the people that voted for him, but for those that attended the meeting for showing up.
“It’s good to see a wide range of people here, and I look forward to serving the county well,” Rosado said.
Conklin, who was superintendent of Burr Oak schools from 1992-2020, joked that his primary, where he ran unopposed, was “difficult,” but said he’s looking forward to being on the commission.
“With the increase of commissioners, I’m looking forward to representing the people of St. Joseph County well,” Conklin said.
Baker, who did not comment during board comment, is the owner of Rusty Baker Heating and Cooling in Mendon, and defeated incumbent Kathy Pangle in the Republican primary in August 2022.
In other business…
• The board approved a new meeting schedule for 2022, with no changes to their regular meeting schedule, but moving the board’s Executive Committee meetings to the second Tuesday of each month at 4 p.m. Previously, the meetings were on the second Tuesday at 8 a.m., but Shaffer lobbied for a change due to the county’s Human Services Commission, which he is looking to be a part of as commissioner, meeting at the same time and date.
Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 or firstname.lastname@example.org.