Two set to square off for full term as Unicoi sheriff

Brad Hicks • Apr 5, 2012 at 10:48 PM

ERWIN — Two of the men who previously sought the Unicoi County Commission’s appointment to serve as interim sheriff of Unicoi County are hoping the county’s voters will choose them to fill the role on a more permanent basis during the August general election.

Both Mike Hensley, who is currently serving as Unicoi County’s interim sheriff, and James Lengel, who previously sought the commission’s appointment as interim sheriff, filed their petitions with the Election Commission Office before Thursday’s noon qualifying deadline.

Both Lengel and Hensley will be running as independent candidates, according to Unicoi County Administrator of Elections Sarah Bailey, as there was no primary election for the office.

Bailey said the minimum number of signatures needed to appear on the ballot — which is 25 — has been verified on each candidate’s petition. Bailey said the Election Commission will meet Thursday to approve candidates for the August election.

The commission was tasked with appointing an interim sheriff until the August election following the March 1 resignation of Kent Harris, who cited health problems as his reason for stepping down.

Hensley was appointed by the commission on March 26. If elected in August, Hensley said he would bring around 25 years of law enforcement experience, most of which comes from his work at the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department, to the post.

Hensley has worked in various capacities at the UCSD over the years, including serving as a dispatcher and jailer. He earned the rank of captain while working as a patrol officer and, in this role, supervised several officers. Hensley was later promoted to investigator. He was eventually promoted to captain of the UCSD’s Criminal Investigations division and was later promoted to chief deputy of the department.

Combating drugs is Hensley’s No. 1 priority, he said Thursday afternoon. He said drug education, for both children and adults, is extremely important.

“It seems that narcotics is the fuel and a big factor in several other crimes that are committed here in Unicoi County,” Hensley said. “I’m a firm believer that education in drug awareness to our young, as well as some of our adults, to make them aware of some of the things that’s used in meth, this new synthetic marijuana and synthetic drugs, they need to be aware of what’s going on with their children.”

Hensley said he is already working on a number of the plans he had in mind for the office of sheriff and the UCSD. Over the past week, he has met with several state, local and federal law enforcement agencies, and with Erwin Police Chief Regan Tilson. Hensley said the Erwin Police Department and UCSD intend to work “hand in hand.” Hensley has also met with Unicoi County Director of Schools Denise Brown and has on paper operation plans for each school in the district in the event of emergencies.

“We’ve got a lot of good plans, and all of this is to make Unicoi County and its citizens safe. That’s my intention,” Hensley said.

Hensley said he also plans on patrolling the county with his officers and “doing everything in my power” to ensure the safety of the county’s citizens.

“I plan on being a working sheriff,” Hensley said. “I’m going to be out with my men patrolling day and night, listening to the law enforcement concerns of the citizens.”

Lengel said he would bring a “broad base of very credible experience” to the office. Lengel has a little more than 30 years of law enforcement experience.

Lengel, a U.S. military veteran, graduated from Kent State University in Ohio with a degree in Criminal Justice. He started his career with the U.S. Secret Service. After this, Lengel worked for 18 years at a suburban police agency in Bainbridge, Ohio. His rank when he left this agency was detective sergeant and he was second-in-command, supervising around 25 people. Lengel left this agency when he was asked to become chief deputy of Geauga County, Ohio, which has a population of around 100,000. At the same time, Lengel said police chiefs of the county voted him to become commander of the area’s major crimes unit.

After his retirement, Lengel worked with the U.S. Marshals Service. He currently works as a probation officer handling house arrest felons for Tennessee.

Lengel, who moved to Unicoi County with his family around five years ago, said the office of sheriff would provide him with the opportunity to give back to the place he calls home.

“I’ve always been involved in helping people, and I feel this is one way to give back to my community,” he said. “I sold everything I had in Ohio, I moved down here with my family. I have just as much invested in Unicoi County as anybody that lives here, and it’s the way I’d like to give back, and that’s with my experience and education.”

Lengel said his top priority for the office would be returning integrity to and boosting morale for a department that has faced recent turmoil.

“I’d like to bring back the integrity, the professionalism to the sheriff’s office,” Lengel said. “I think that’s the number one priority. In order to do that, I would have to be able to assess the men, the current condition of the department, the equipment, things like that.”

If elected, Lengel said he would meet with county commissioners to listen to their wants and needs for the department, and would listen to the concerns of the county’s citizens.

“I’ve always had an open-door policy with my employees and with my citizens when I was a chief deputy, and I would continue to do that,” he said.

The candidate elected in August will serve the remainder of Harris’ term, which expires in 2014, and would take office Sept. 1.

Two seats to represent the county’s 2nd district on the Unicoi County Board of Education will also be decided in the August election. Only two candidates — Tyler Engle and Lisa White — submitted papers to the Election Commission Office by Thursday’s qualifying deadline. Neither Engle nor White have previously served on the board.

Current school board member Garland “Bubba” Evely will no longer represent the 2nd district once redistricting takes effect. The other current board member representing the 2nd district, Bo Shadden, did not take out papers to seek re-election.

Two candidates will also appear on ballots for the 4th district of the State House of Representatives. These candidates are Kent Williams, who is running as an independent, and Thomas Gray III, who is running as a Republican.

Incumbent Assessor of Property Patsy Bennett, who won the Republican nomination in the March primary, will be the lone candidate for the office on the Aug. 2nd election ballot.

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