John Day, spokesman for the Unicoi County Citizens for Good Governance, wants to see quicker action from state Attorney General Robert E. Cooper Jr.’s office on its possible pursuit of an ouster against Unicoi County Sheriff Kent Harris and has started an online petition he hopes will move the process along.
Day, who put the petition up on the website ipetitions.com under the title “TN AG Oust Sheriff Kent Harris” Thursday evening, said it is already seeing signatures. The online petition also gives signers the option of leaving comments. Day, who was the first to sign the petition, explained his reasons for wanting to see Harris’ ouster in his comments.
“Our sheriff department is in shambles, and many of the fine sheriff department employees are afraid for their jobs. Our county is damaged, people are fearful and their emotional stress is at an all-time high, and the law enforcement effectiveness of the sheriff department is at an all-time low and diminishes daily as the unfit-for-duty Sheriff Harris continues to lead the sheriff department on a sure path of destruction,” Day wrote.
As of Friday evening, the petition had more than 40 signatures, most of which are from signers who wished to remain anonymous. However, Day said that as administrator of the petition, he can see the names of those who have signed. And, as signatures are obtained, Day said he intends to send copies of the petition to Cooper’s office.
“It’s not statute-driven,” Day said of the petition. “It’s a private, personal request from citizens of this county to get him to act. I’m going to fax him copies of that petition on a periodic basis as signatures come in to remind him ... and then, if he doesn’t act, I’m going to take an entourage down to see him in Nashville because this needs to be done.”
On Oct. 14, a grand jury returned 10 true bills charging Harris with 10 felonies, including six counts of official misconduct and one count each of tampering with evidence, theft over $1,000, criminal simulation and attempted aggravated assault.
In late October, the Unicoi County Commission opted to wait and see what direction the state attorney general’s office was going to take in Harris’ possible ouster before making a move on the matter. District Attorney General Tony Clark recently said he met with officials with the state attorney general’s office, but no timeframe was given as to when the office may make a decision regarding the case.
An email recently sent to the Johnson City Press by the attorney general’s office includes a letter that cited Tennessee Code Annotated 8-4-101, the statutory standard for ouster. This code states officeholders who knowingly or willfully commit misconduct in office, neglect the duties of their office enjoined upon them by law, are found publicly intoxicated, engage in any form of illegal gambling or commit any act “constituting a violation of any penal statute involving moral turpitude” shall forfeit their office.
Day said he feels citizens have a right to know where the process currently stands so that other options can be explored.
“(It) should’ve been done already, in my mind, unless (Cooper) has a very good, legitimate legal reason why he hasn’t done it or if he’s trying to amass enough evidence to make it work without any hitches,” Day said. “If that’s what he’s doing, we need to hear that. Nobody knows that.
“Please tell us he’s pursuing it or tell us he’s not because if he’s not, then our county commission can. If they choose not to, then 10 citizens can do it. That’s by statute.”
Should the attorney general’s office elect not to pursue the ouster, Day said his group will seek the move from the Unicoi County Commission.
“I’m going to pressure them very hard to do it if the attorney general backs off, because that’s their job,” he said.
Day said a Facebook page to chronicle information on the Harris situation, titled “Unicoi County Citizens for the Ouster of Sheriff Kent Harris,” has also been started. This page also provides links to the petition.
Day also said his efforts are not politically motivated.
“I have no intention, ever, of running for office in Unicoi County in my lifetime,” he said. “My whole motivation is to make this a better place to live for people today and generations to come.”
Harris could not be reached Friday for comment.