Lack of experience derails bid for sheriff

Brad Hicks • Feb 21, 2014 at 9:54 PM

ERWIN — Don Whitson’s exclusion from the 2014 race for Unicoi County sheriff came down to experience, said a letter sent Friday to county Administrator of Elections Sarah Bailey by the state Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission.

The letter, signed by POST Commission Chairman Glenn Chrisman, said Whitson met with POST officials in Nashville on Thursday. Whitson had requested a waiver of POST requirements for inclusion on the 2014 ballot, the letter said.

“It was the decision of the POST Commission on February 20, 2014, to deny his request, as POST does not have the authority to waive the requirements as stated in (Tennessee Code Annotated statute) 8-8-102,” the letter said.

That statute outlines the qualifications each candidate must meet before seeking the sheriff’s office. These include proof of U.S. citizenship, a minimum age requirement, education requirements and experience requirements.

POST was unable to certify Whitson’s inclusion on the ballot because he did not possess the required experience under state law to seek the office. Sheriff candidates must have three years of full-time experience as a POST Commission-certified law enforcement officer within the last 10 years or experience as a state or federal law enforcement officer with training equipment like that required by the POST Commission.

“His records indicate that he does not have the requisite law enforcement experience within the time frame required by state law,” the POST letter said.

Whitson filed a petition with the county Election Commission earlier this week to seek the sheriff’s position as an independent candidate. He was slated to appear on the Aug. 7 general election ballot, vying for the office against the winner of the May Republican primary.

Earlier this month, Whitson questioned the timing of a letter he received from the Sheriff’s Department requesting he turn in his badge, radio and other equipment. Whitson said previously that he received this letter the same day it became publicly known he would be seeking the sheriff’s post.

Whitson said he worked as an investigator with the sheriff’s department from the late 1980s through the late 1990s. He has worked with the court system since 2007.

Bailey said Friday that candidates seeking certain offices must meet certain requirements, and, in Tennessee, those seeking to be sheriff must meet POST requirements. She said the Election Commission provides candidates seeking the job with a POST informational packet, detailing items they must meet.

It is then up to the candidates to compile the requested information and submit it to the POST Commission, which will then inform the local Election Commission if the candidate has met the necessary requirements, Bailey said.

The Election Commission is scheduled to meet Monday morning to review qualifying petitions from candidates and certify candidates for the 2014 elections. With the word the commission received from POST on Friday, Bailey said she does not anticipate the commission moving to include Whitson on the ballot.

Whitson said Friday he is continuing to look into the matter, but he had no additional comment at this time.

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