MISHAWAKA -- The job of restoring the public's trust in the office of the Penn Township trustee has been handed to a former state government consultant.
The township's Democrat precinct committee members Thursday elected Janet Whitfield-Hyduk to replace former trustee Jeff Dean, who stepped down last month after pleading guilty to multiple felonies in connection to a ghost employment case involving his former secretary and live-in girlfriend, Sarah Sharp.
The former consultant to the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute received 34 of 37 possible votes to defeat opponents Mike Ryno, a retired substitute teacher, and Joe Ganser, a retired former township trustee and advisory board member.
Wasting no time, Mishawaka City Clerk Debbie Ladyga-Block, vice chair of the county Democratic Party, swore Whitfield-Hyduk into office immediately following the vote.
"I'm very honored that (precinct committee members) put their faith and trust in me to be the next Penn Township trustee," Whitfield-Hyduk said, "and I look forward to bringing the office back to respectability."
A lifelong resident of Mishawaka, Whitfield-Hyduk said she plans to get to work immediately in her new position.
"Honestly, I'm going to go in (today) and meet the staff, and the first order of business, obviously, is the budget. We'll start hammering that out, because, obviously, September is right around the corner."
The trustee and the township advisory board typically begin discussing the following year's budget in July, but that was not possible this year because of the upheaval in the office resulting from Dean's departure.
That said, state Sen. John Broden, chairman of the county Democratic Party, expressed confidence Thursday in Whitfield-Hyduk's ability to lead the office through the next couple of months and beyond.
"I'm very excited. I'm most impressed with her résumé," Broden said, adding, "She is highly competent and highly motivated, and I'm very excited for her tonight."
Whitfield-Hyduk will serve the remainder of Dean's term, which expires at the end of 2013.
Dean, meanwhile, is scheduled to appear in court Monday, where a judge will decide his fate. He faces up to six years in prison and up to $20,000 in fines.
Sharp's case, in which she is charged with one count each of theft, ghost employment and conflict of interest, all Class D felonies, is set to go to trial Sept. 17.
Staff writer Erin Blasko: