Today will mark current Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department employee Mike Hensley’s first full day on the job as interim sheriff of Unicoi County.
At its regular meeting Monday evening, the commissioners present voted 7-1 to appoint Hensley to the post. Prior to its vote, the group interviewed the three candidates who qualified and submitted paperwork to Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch’s office to seek the appointment prior to this past Thursday’s deadline. Those candidates were Hensley, current UCSD employee Ron Arnold and probation officer James Lengel.
At a March 9 meeting, the commission determined that the first candidate to receive five votes from the commission would be named the appointee. Lengel was the first candidate to be subject of a roll call vote, receiving one vote in his favor from Commission Chairwoman Sue Jean Wilson. Hensley was next, and received 7 votes in his favor from commissioners present against Wilson’s lone dissenting vote. Commissioner Gene Wilson was not present at Monday’s meeting.
Hensley’s appointment was met with a standing ovation from many of those inside the crowded courtroom in the Unicoi County Courthouse, where Monday’s meeting was held.
“I’m excited. I’m honored. I’m ready to serve the people of this county in this capacity,” Hensley said after the commission’s vote.
Hensley has approximately 25 years of law enforcement experience across several local agencies, with the majority of his experience in Unicoi County. Hensley has worked as an emergency dispatcher and constable in Unicoi County, has held the titles of chief deputy and captain in the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department and has experience as a criminal investigator.
Hensley told commissioners that he already knows who will fill the roles of UCSD chief deputy and administrative assistant. He said he will appoint Craig Masters, who possesses around 30 years experience with the Tennessee Highway Patrol, as the department’s administrative assistant and current UCSD investigator Frank Rogers as its chief deputy.
When asked his top priority, Hensley said instituting a professional narcotics division for the department is essential. He also said programs in place, such as the D.A.R.E. Program in county schools, the senior citizen call list and neighborhood watch programs, will continue.
Although Hensley said he intends to seek the office in the August general election, he said he has other priorities in mind. He said it’s crucial to boost the morale of a department that has seen its share of recent turmoil.
“My main concern is to get this department up and going, to get the morale up,” Hensley said following the commission’s vote. “We have got a professional department. It needs a leader. I believe I have the experience and the knowledge to lead it.”
Another concern is the department’s budget. Hensley told commissioners he would like to see deputies return to 8-hour shifts, rather than the 12-hour shifts they currently work, in an effort to reduce accumulated overtime. He also wants to see a minimum of three officers utilized per shift. He said he would also like to cut down on vehicle usage to reduce gas costs.
To address comp time issues within the department, Hensley said he would give one officer the day off on Fridays, whereas all departmental officers currently work Fridays. He also said he would like to see one of the department’s full-time officers serve as a relief deputy to fill in as needed. Hensley also said 28 hours of overtime could be reduced by allowing officers on first and second shifts to take two hours of their shifts off for seven days. He said this could be accomplished with a minor reduction in departmental coverage.
Hensley also said he wishes to see continuity in UCSD employees. He said he would like to see officers hired to the department after May 1 sign an affidavit that, upon completion of training, they work for the department for at least two years to eliminate use of the department as a “training ground.” Those who do not meet this would have to reimburse the county for training expenses under this requirement. He also said he would look to hire people residing in Unicoi County first. Hensley said he has good relationships with surrounding law enforcement agencies, which he said is crucial to departmental success.
Following the March 1 resignation of Kent Harris and the subsequent acceptance of his resignation by the commission, the office of Unicoi County sheriff was determined to be vacant. It was then up to the commission to appoint an interim sheriff to serve until the August election, when the office of Unicoi County sheriff will be placed on the ballot.
Hensley said he plans on being a “working sheriff” and available to the community “24/7.”