BLOOMINGTON — McLean County Sheriff Mike Emery said Tuesday he will not seek a third term next year, ending more than three decades with the department.
Surrounded by family and members of his administrative staff, Emery told an audience in the lobby of the McLean County Law and Justice Center his decision to retire from the department where he started work in December 1981 came after serious reflection.
“It was a tough decision, but it’s important to know when it’s time and you can go out on top with a list of major accomplishments,” Emery said after the announcement.
“I’ve had an exceptional 33-year career in the McLean County sheriff’s office with eight of those years as sheriff,” said Emery, 55, in a message that turned emotional several times.
One of the biggest challenges Emery inherited was a problem of chronic overcrowding at the jail in downtown Bloomington. In August 2012, the department marked a full calendar year without housing any inmates outside McLean County — a practice that had cost county taxpayers almost $2 million during the previous 17 years.
The effort to solve the population issue, Emery said Tuesday, resulted in creation of the McLean County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, which is made up of key players in the criminal justice system.
“The foundation is established for the right person to come in and continue the construction,” he said.
Among the projects Emery said he will focus on during his remaining 18 months in office is the issue of housing for mentally ill inmates. Consultants from the National Institute of Corrections will visit the jail in July as a follow-up to a recommendation last year that the county explore options for housing mentally ill inmates, who now are kept in the booking area.
Jail Superintendent Greg Allen, who started work at the department the same day as Emery, said the justice council will be Emery’s legacy.
“The communication between law enforcement and the criminal justice system is so important. The CJCC has made managing the jail population so much better. We now have the right people in custody — the dangerous, felony level offenders,” said Allen.
It’s common practice now for the sheriff’s department to let judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers know when the jail population is nearing capacity.
McLean County Board Chairman Matt Sorensen called Emery “a great public servant.”
Emery “has worked well with the rural communities to help extend the experience and expertise of the sheriff’s office and help them get a handle on law enforcement costs. He has worked very hard to build partnerships in the rural areas of the county,” said Sorensen.
McLean County State’s Attorney Jason Chambers praised Emery’s list of accomplishments.
“You can sum up the list with this: collaboration, problem solving and communication — he’s been good at all that,” said Chambers.
As Emery prepares to leave the $104,000-a-year position, one of his lieutenants is apparently gearing up to become the second announced candidate for the job.
Lt. Jon Sandage said Tuesday he will have an announcement at 5 p.m. Wednesday at the Illinois State University Alumni Center. A news release said Sandage will be introduced by Emery.
Sandage would join retired sheriff’s department investigator Jeff Elston, who announced his candidacy last week. They would face each other in the GOP primary in March.