The county commissioner on his goals, the importance of family, and inclusion in government
First term St. Joseph County Commissioner Jared Hoffmaster, 38, sat down with Watershed Voice Wednesday (virtually, of course) to answer questions about his new role. Hoffmaster, a Republican, defeated Democrat Andrew George and Matthew Mosher (no party affiliation) for the First District seat (Three Rivers, Fabius Township, Flowerfield Township) in November, and attended his first meeting as county commissioner Tuesday.
Alek Haak-Frost (AHF): Now that the election is in the rearview mirror and you’re officially representing the First District of St. Joseph County, what are you hoping to tackle in the coming months? What are some issues you would like to see addressed in your first year in office?
Jared Hoffmaster (JH): The most important issue right now is helping the County manage the COVID pandemic. I want to work with our DDAs and the different Chambers of Commerce in our County and make sure our local economy has a solid foundation and can survive the crisis. I also want to work with our local health care providers, including Becky Burns and the County Health Agency, in order to get vaccinations out to everyone who wants them as quickly and efficiently as possible.
AHF: I know Tuesday was a big day for you, your first meeting as county commissioner. You mentioned you were surrounded by family during the meeting (via Zoom) last night, and they were with you when you were sworn in. Take us through the swearing in process and your first day as commissioner with your family in tow. What did you think of the experience and what did your family have to say?
JH: My first County Commission meeting was great! I had the chance to speak with some of the County staff and all of the Commissioners on a one-on-one basis so I felt comfortable. Having experience on different boards including the City Commission gave me some beginning confidence but I still have a lot to learn at this level. Commissioner (Al) Balog told me to, “be a sponge and soak in as much information as possible.” I think that’s good advice.
I have an amazing support system and wouldn’t be where I am today without it. My wife and 3 children, as well as my mother and father-in-law were with me at my office when I was sworn in. My mother and brother down in Florida joined via Zoom. My family means everything to me and I want to make sure I leave my children with a lasting legacy. I want them to be proud of the Hoffmaster name. Them being a part of the swearing in ceremony was very special for me. I wish we could have done it in-person at the Courthouse but still appreciate the moment. I think if you asked my children, they would have wondered why they had to get dressed up for the occasion but we bribed them with Culvers afterwards, so everyone won.
AHF: How did you prepare for that first meeting? Usually there is a county executive meeting prior to a regular meeting but with this being the first meeting of the year, the commission met Tuesday without an executive meeting the week prior. Have you been attending meetings in the weeks leading up to your first meeting as commissioner? Was there any training or a learning process you went through beforehand?
JH: Before I started as a County Commissioner, I wanted to make sure to reach out and speak with a number of County staff as well as elected officials in order to follow Commissioner Balog’s advice of soaking up as much information as possible. I really wanted to hit the ground running. I’ve also attended County Executive and regular board meetings to get familiar with the process. I plan on attending the monthly township board meetings as well as the City Commission meetings via Zoom to make sure I stay current with what’s going on in my district. I live, work, and play in Three Rivers, so I think I have a pretty good sense to begin with but want to stay in touch.
AHF: You previously served as a Three Rivers City Commissioner, how is your new role as county commissioner similar and how is it different compared to that of city commissioner?
JH: I’ve only just begun my work at the County and still feel I have a lot to learn but a couple of similarities are that they both have similar meeting styles and structures. I worked very closely with City Manager Joe Bippus when I was a City Commissioner and feel my relationship with our County Administrator, Teresa Doehring, will be similar. She’s very talented and works well with the Commission.
I think one difference between the two organizations is that the County is so much larger. Larger budgets, bigger staffs, and more residents with very different views and opinions on our County. I want to make sure everyone has a seat at the table, and even if we disagree, (I want them to) feel like their voice is being heard. We all want what’s best for our community.
AHF: If constituents have questions for you, what is the best way to get in contact with you? Will you have regular office hours?
JH: I have an open-door policy and am very visible in our community. I encourage residents to reach out to me! The best way to contact me is to drop me an email. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. I check my County email throughout the day and will try to respond as quickly as possible.
Alek Haak-Frost is executive editor of Watershed Voice.