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Today deadline for U.C. sheriff candidacy

Brad Hicks • Apr 5, 2012 at 8:35 AM

ERWIN — The qualifying deadline for those wishing to seek the office of Unicoi County sheriff in the August general election is today at noon and at this point, two candidates have taken out petitions to seek the office.

Neither of the two men who had taken out papers from the Unicoi County Election Commissions Office — Mike Hensley and James Lengel — had turned in their signed petitions by Wednesday afternoon.

However, Hensley, interim sheriff of Unicoi County, said he fully intends to submit his papers to seek the office by today’s noon deadline. Hensley described things as “very busy” since he was appointed interim sheriff on March 26 by the Unicoi County Commission.

Hensley said Wednesday afternoon that his first priority has been the job of Unicoi County’s sheriff. He also said he’s already working on a number of the plans he has in mind for the office of sheriff and the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department. Thus far, Hensley said he has met with Unicoi County Director of Schools Denise Brown to discuss an emergency operations plan for the district’s schools, has met with Erwin Police Chief Regan Tilson, has talked with officials at surrounding state, local and federal law enforcement agencies, and has the UCSD’s narcotics division back up and running.

“I’ve got some really good people working with me, professional officers,” Hensley said Wednesday. “They’re doing a good job.”

The Unicoi County Commission was tasked with appointing an interim sheriff following the March 1 resignation of Kent Harris. The three qualified candidates who sought the commission’s appointment were publicly interviewed at its March 26 meeting. Lengel, a Unicoi resident who also sought the commission’s appointment, has taken out papers to seek the office in the August.

Lengel, who has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience working for various agencies in Ohio and with the U.S. Secret Service and who currently works as a probation officer, could not be reached Wednesday for comment. Lengel previously told the Johnson City Press that seeking the office of Unicoi County sheriff would be his way of giving back to the community he now calls home.

“Unicoi is my home now, and I feel I want to give back to Unicoi,” Lengel said previously. “I have experience, skills and education in law enforcement over a 30-year career, and I would love to help my hometown at this point.”

Both Lengel and Hensley have until noon today to submit signed petitions to the Unicoi County Election Commission Office to be placed on the ballot for the August election. Although they are the only two candidates who have taken out papers, there is still time for other candidates to take out papers to seek the office and submit their petitions to the Unicoi County Election Commission Office by today’s deadline.

Unicoi County Administrator of Elections Sarah Bailey said the federal Hatch Act, a law that aims to prohibit employees of agencies receiving federal funding from seeking office in a partisan race, would not impact the sheriff’s race this August as no local political parties held caucuses to select their nominees for the office.

Should a current UCSD employee take out papers to the seek the office and turn them into the Election Commission by today’s deadline, local Civil Service Board rules would come into play. Walter Garland, the board’s chairman, previously said the board implemented a regulation several years ago that current UCSD employees seeking political office would either have to resign from the job with the department or request an unpaid leave of absence.

Garland said the regulation was put in place to “keep everybody in the sheriff’s department from getting involved in politics.” This regulation does not apply to those in the Erwin Police Department and would not apply to Hensley, as he is the acting sheriff of Unicoi County.

Bailey said the Unicoi County Election Commission is scheduled to meet April 12 to approve candidates for the Aug. 2 election. The candidate voted into the office in August will fill the remainder of Harris’ term, which expires in 2014, and will take office on Sept. 1.

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