There's a new sheriff in town
CENTREVILLE — In front of a packed crowd of local officials, family members, the community and sheriffs from surrounding counties, Mark Lillywhite was sworn in as St. Joseph County sheriff to a standing ovation during a ceremony at the Historic Courthouse in Centreville Tuesday.
Lillywhite, who has been with the Sheriff’s Department for 25 years and the last 11 as undersheriff, will take over the sheriff’s position starting Jan. 31, succeeding former Sheriff Bradley Balk, who announced he would retire back in November. Lillywhite will serve the last 11 months of Balk’s term, and will be up for re-election on the November ballot.
In an interview with the Commercial-News following the swearing-in, Lillywhite said it was “humbling and heartwarming” to see everyone there for the ceremony.
“Everybody in the room means something to me in some aspect. It’s just really rewarding to see the support, and actually it’s overwhelming to see so many people here for this,” Lillywhite said. “I don’t really have anything to really describe, it’s just heartwarming.”
Lillywhite said one of the things he looks back on, now that he’s sheriff, was a newspaper clipping a friend sent him of his grandfather, who used to be sheriff.
“A friend of mine sent me a Three Rivers Commercial 50 years ago, and my grandfather was investigating a complaint as sheriff back then, and that was 50 years ago,” Lillywhite said. “Today, 50 years later, to get sworn in, this is three generations of sheriffs for the St. Joseph County citizens.”
Once Lillywhite takes over, a couple of changes will be made at the upper management of the department. Current Captain Jason Bingaman will become the new undersheriff, TJ Baker will become the new Road Patrol captain, and Erin Goff will become the new Emergency Management Coordinator.
Having been at the department for as long they have, Lillywhite said it will give him and Bingaman an advantage as the new sheriff and undersheriff.
“We have a good grasp of the department, the dynamics of the area, the other agencies, and the priorities of the employees,” Lillywhite said. “Having me mentor Jason as undersheriff with some issues that at the time took me a while to figure out, or maybe things have changed from the time when I became undersheriff, but having that ground there and having to bounce ideas off of each other really helps run more efficient and smoother.”
Lillywhite said he has many goals for the department once he starts at the end of the month, and said some changes will be coming to the department in the next few months.
“I want to maintain our road patrol level of service. I want to make it better if I can, I can only do that through the high level of training that we offer our officers, along with making sure they have all the equipment needed to do their job to the best of their ability,” Lillywhite said. “I want to make sure we maintain and continue to be fiscally responsible, innovative with technology and being able to adjust or adapt to anything that might be thrown our way that might be a change.”
Overall, Lillywhite said he’s looking forward to “hitting the ground running” with his team in place.
“I’m ready for the challenge, and I’m excited to get started and hit the ground running,” Lillywhite said. “The team I have prepared to come in and replace my position, with Captain Bingaman, TJ Baker, Erin Goff, and my jail administrator, Kitty Buchner, the team I feel is very strong, and we’re looking forward to some new challenges, some change and working hard for the citizens of St. Joseph County.”
Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 23 or robert@threeriversnews. com.