Handing Over the Reins: Sheriff Hilton, Sheriff-Elect Wood talk transition
The transition of power at the Rapides Parish Sheriff's Office to have Sheriff-Elect Mark Wood take over is underway. Last week, Wood was sworn in as chief deputy, a second-in-command position to get him back to work and begin training.
We sat down with both Sheriff William Earl Hilton and Sheriff-Elect Mark Wood to talk about the transition, when Sheriff Hilton will officially retire, and what's next for the office.
Brooke Buford: "I saw that you were sworn in as chief deputy. How does it feel to be back at work?"
Sheriff-Elect Wood: "It feels good. Me and my wife, we had no insurance, no income since February when we had to leave. When me and the boss were talking, the sheriff, that Sunday, I said, I'm not being pushy, but I could use a job and some insurance. It feels good. He told me what he was going to do. We're listening. Taking it all in and getting a feel about the courthouse again."
Brooke Buford: "So, sheriff, what is the plan moving forward for the transition? Have you figured out when you are going to retire?"
Sheriff Hilton: "Well, my retirement officially ends June 30 at midnight. I intend on staying around until then. Maybe I won't be seen as much here at the office. When you've got 50 years of back vacation time...(laughs)...that's a joke really. I'll be around. I'll be available."
Brooke Buford: "Talk to me about handing the reins over. What are you doing between now and June to get him prepared?"
Sheriff Hilton: "I just want Mark to be here everyday to see the operation of the department. Just like the day before yesterday, I took Mark with me to the crime lab in Shreveport. I took Mark and introduced him to Jimmy Barnhill, who is the director, to let him get a feel and let him see the lab. Mark had never seen the big lab. It is really nice. Yesterday I was in Baton Rouge at the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement. I will get Mark involved. As a matter of fact, I talked with Jim Craft about getting Mark appointed on the commission board and he will refer Mark's name to the governor and the governor does the appointments on that. The finances here, the purchasing - things we do everyday, the billing, DOC for the inmates, billing of the federal inmates...Mark needs to get a feel for how that is actually done."
Brooke Buford: "You are really involved in Baton Rouge. Is this going to be something new for you to get used to the legislature and everything that comes along with it?"
Sheriff-Elect Wood: "A little bit of it. I've been with the sheriff a time or two in Baton Rouge, not much. I do know we need to pay a lot of attention to things that are happening in Baton Rouge that bleeds off on us. I'm looking forward to getting involved in it."
Brooke Buford: "Tell me about working with other sheriffs. I imagine you've gotten to know a few of them over the years. How will that be different for you?"
Sheriff-Elect Wood: "We have to be in Baton Rouge in February for a new seminar, a sheriff school, to kind of introduce us to a lot of things. I'm excited. I'm looking forward to it."
Brooke Buford: "Sheriff, as you wrap this up over the next couple of months, is it a relief that you are passing it off into good hands here?"
Sheriff Hilton: "I'm very, very comfortable.When you do something 50 years, it becomes part of your life. It's a bittersweet thing to walk off and leave it. I love the people of Rapides Parish and I hope I have pleased them serving as their sheriff. I did work hard at it. This is a very hard job and if your family doesn't support you, it makes it even harder. My wife and my family has supported me. I know that I'm handing it off to a good person and a man that came from a good family. I'm going to show him and teach him everything I know and everything that I have done. There are so many things that we do everyday that is not written in a policy. You just do it. It's part of doing business. It's going to be good. Mark is going to make us a good sheriff and I look forward to him being sheriff."
Sheriff-Elect Wood says he's currently working on coming up with names of who will be his chief deputy. He said he wasn't ready to release who he is considering just yet.