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U.C. officials have stringent state rules to follow to appoint sheriff

Brad Hicks • Mar 5, 2012 at 10:38 PM

In the coming days, the Unicoi County Commission will discuss the procedure the county will use to appoint a fill-in sheriff until the August general election.

On Thursday, then-acting Unicoi County sheriff Kent Harris submitted his letter of resignation to the county, citing ongoing health problems as the reason for his decision. Harris’ letter did not make any mention of the 11 felony counts he is facing, which include seven counts of official misconduct and one count each of tampering with evidence, theft over $1,000, criminal simulation and attempted aggravated assault. Harris is scheduled to make his initial appearance on one of the official misconduct charges March 27 and is set to begin trial on the theft over $1,000 and criminal simulation charges July 30.

The County Commission is scheduled to meet Friday to begin discussion of the process it will use to appoint a sheriff until the general election. Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch previously said the appointee will not be chosen at the meeting, but the protocol the commission will use to choose this person should be set.

Until the commission appoints someone to fill the position until the August election, which Lynch said could take place later this month, Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Ronnie Adkins has assumed the position’s responsibilities.

But before it can begin discussion of the procedure it will use to appoint a sheriff, the commission must first consider its acceptance of Harris’ letter of resignation, which it is also set to do Friday. Assuming the resignation is accepted, the post of Unicoi County Sheriff will be declared vacant. Following the meeting, the county will advertise the vacancy, and this advertisement will include the requirements of those looking to serve as the commission’s appointee must have.

Unicoi County Commission Chairwoman Sue Jean Wilson said last week that whatever the manner the appointment is conducted, it will be done in accordance with state laws regarding a vacancy.

“There are certain qualifications that the people who apply for the position will have to meet, state qualifications as far as being able to be certified as a sheriff,” Wilson said. “We’ll just have to go with the information we’re given, and if they don’t meet the qualifications then they won’t be considered.”

Wilson also said these requirements are not easily obtained.

“So if those people who are interested don’t already have it, I’m not sure that they can get qualified or certified by the time we meet to select the proper person to fill the position,” she said.

Tennessee Code Annotated 8-8-102 governs the qualifications of county sheriffs when addressing vacancies.

The code states that after May 30, 1997, to qualify for election or appointment to the office of sheriff, a person must be a U.S. citizen and at least 25 years of age. The person seeking the office must also be a qualified voter of the county for at least one full year prior to the general election’s qualifying deadline, which is April 5 this year.

Those seeking office must also have obtained a high school diploma or at least its education training equivalent. The code also states that the person must not have been convicted of or pleaded guilty or no contest to any misdemeanor charge of domestic violence, or any felony charge or violation of any federal or state laws or city ordinances relating to force, violence, theft, dishonesty, gambling, liquor or controlled substances.

The code further states those seeking the office must be fingerprinted and have the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation conduct a search of local, state and federal fingerprint files for any criminal record. They must also have never been “released, separated or discharged” from the Armed Forces with a dishonorable or bad conduct discharge, or as the result of a conviction at court marshal for state or federal offenses.

Much of the remaining requirements outlined in the state code address training and experience requirements the appointee or candidates seeking the office in the August election must possess.

The appointee or candidate must have at least three years of full-time experience as a Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) commission-certified law enforcement officer in the past 10 years, or at least three years of full-time experience as a state- or federally certified law enforcement officer with training equivalent to that required by the POST commission in the past 10 years.

Those seeking the office must also file several items with the POST commission at least 14 days prior to the election’s qualifying deadline. These items include a confirmation of psychological evaluation form certified by the psychologist/psychiatrist providing the evaluation. Candidates must also submit a sworn affidavit affirming this requirement and other requirements.

“If such affidavit and form are not filed with the POST commission by the fourteenth day prior to the qualifying deadline for the office of sheriff, such candidate’s name shall not be placed on the ballot,” TCA code states. “The POST commission shall have the authority to verify the validity of such affidavit and form.”

The POST commission will verify POST certification of any person seeking the office of sheriff, according to state code. Those failing to meet the aforementioned training and experience requirements and proper certification procedures will not have their names appear on the ballot.

Anyone elected or appointed to the office of sheriff is also required to complete 40 hours of in-service training annually. First-term sheriffs, regardless of prior law enforcement experience, must successfully complete newly elected sheriff’s school prior to Sept. 1 if that person is elected in an August general election. Those failing to do so will lose the power of arrest, the code states. However, code states that this class is held only in years that elections for sheriffs are typically held.

The person elected to serve as Unicoi County sheriff following the August general election will take office Sept. 1 and will serve the remainder of Harris’ term, which expires in 2014.

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