Retiring Kent Co. sheriff: ‘It’s a good time to do this’

Kent County

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — After 17 years as Kent County sheriff, Lawrence Stelma is retiring.

In a Thursday letter to Kent County’s board of commissioners, Stelma said he has been balancing serious family medical issues for the last decade and that he can’t devote the adequate time needed to the sheriff’s office and his family.

“(With) over almost 50 years here, my family has suffered from lack of involvement and lack of availability,” Stelma told 24 Hour News 8 Thursday afternoon. “So, I’m going to spend a lot of time with family.”

>>PDF: Stelma’s letter to Kent County commissioners

Stelma says he intends to retire on Nov. 1. In his letter, he called the drcision to retire the most agonizing and difficult one he’s had to make, but said he is “at peace” and confident in his successors.

“From a budgetary standpoint, from an initiative standpoint, it’s a good time to do this,” Stelma said.  “And I’m also 70 years old, or almost 70, and it’s time to pass the baton to a new generation that will uphold and build upon what we have in place today.”

Stelma began his career at the sheriff’s department as a deputy in 1972 before being transferred to the detective bureau in 1979. He continued to work his way through the ranks until he was first elected as Kent County sheriff in 2001. He has remained in the position since.

Under state law, the Kent County undersheriff must take over as sheriff until a replacement is named. In this case, that would be Michelle LaJoye-Young.

While the next sheriff must be picked by the county clerk, county prosecutor and chief probate court judge, Stelma is already lobbying for LaJoye-Young, who would become the department’s first female sheriff.

“I think she’ll be the smartest, most articulate sheriff this county has ever had,” Stelma said.

Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker says the panel that chooses the next sheriff has a duty to look at all the candidates.

“We’ve got until November, but I think we want to start that process and get that rolling as soon as possible, because it’s a fairly unique event,” explained Becker. “It’s something we want to be very meticulous about and give everyone a fair hearing because it’s a very important position, obviously.”

When asked about his favorite moment as sheriff, Stelma had this to say:

“The thing I’m most proud about is the culture of this organization from top to bottom,” he said. “Really, the heartfelt passion to serve the community.”

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