Chris Mathes, Dexter Lunceford to face off for Republican nomination in Carter County sheriff's race

John Thompson • Apr 30, 2014 at 11:35 AM

ELIZABETHTON — Chris Mathes has served as sheriff of Carter County for the past eight years. He is being challenged in the May 6 Republican Primary by retired Tennessee Highway Patrolman Dexter Lunceford. The winner of the Republican nomination will face retired Lt. Col. James Parrish in the August general election.

Mathes was first elected sheriff in 2006. He is a 1995 graduate of East Tennessee State University. His first law enforcement experience was with the Johnson City Police Department, where he served as a police officer and a criminal investigator. He worked for the department from December 1992 to March 1998.

Mathes left Johnson City when he became an agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, from March 1998 to April 2006. He was posted in South Florida, one of the hottest spots for drug enforcement.

Lunceford has 30 years of experience in law enforcement, serving with the Carter County Sheriff’s Department and the Johnson City Police Department before he joined the Tennessee Highway Patrol. He retired from the Highway Patrol in August 2012.

Lunceford also served in the U.S. Marine Corps on active duty from 1976-79. Lunceford and his wife, Pam, have been married for 28 years and have two daughters, Tessa is in law school and graduating in May and Jessica is a sophomore at East Tennessee State University.

Mathes said he is proud of the sheriff’s department and how far it has come in the past eight years.

“I am proud of the department and of the men. I think we have come a long way and we have become more professional and earned the respect of the surrounding communities."

Mathes said since he became sheriff, he has had to take control of a jail which was begun before he was elected. He said he worked to ensure the safety and security of the new building through such areas as security cameras and computers.

Mathes said he has also improved patrolling in the county, with more officers on patrol and an improved fleet of cruisers.

Lunceford said he has plans to improve the department.

“I plan to increase our law enforcement services while holding the line on spending,” Lunceford said.

“We don’t have a lot of money in Carter County,” Lunceford said. He said the budget for the sheriff’s department has gone from $3.2 million to $7.2 million since Mathes has been sheriff.

A lot of the increase is to cover the costs and additional manpower for the new jail, which is about five times larger than the old jail.

“The jail is a big expense,” Lunceford said. The costs were not just in operating the jail and staffing it, Lunceford said, but in additional factors such as medical, dental and mental expenses.

Lunceford said he would like to hold down the costs by working with the judges for alternative sentencing for nonviolent prisoners.

Lunceford said he thought the sheriff’s departent had too many supervisors. “There are a lot of good people working for the department,” Lunceford said but he said only eight deputies don’t have any rank.

Mathes said he has been a careful manager of the public’s money during his eight years. While he has supported the advancement of his men and women to help keep them from going after higher pay in other departments, he has still been a good steward with the department’s funds. He said when the jail opened, he was able to turn $1 million back to the county general fund because he watched the bottom line when the jail opening was delayed. He has consistently returned thousands of dollars each year from other areas where he has been able to save, Mathes said.

Lunceford said he would operate within the sheriff’s department budget and not bring suit against the county to get more funding.

Lunceford also said he thought the sheriff’s department was reactive in its law enforcement services. He promised his administration would be proactive.

Mathes said his department has been very effective in law enforcement, with no major crimes still unresolved. He said he is proud his department has been able to accomplish even more.

“Being a sheriff is more than just putting people in jail,” Mathes said. He said a sheriff must be community oriented. “I sit on 15 different community boards,” Mathes said.

Among the ways he said the sheriff’s department has helped the community is through the jail trusty program. He said he has expanded it so that now trustys provide labor throughout the community, including city and county schools when classes are not in session, the Carter County Landfill and Recycling Center, the Elizabethton Golf Course and many other community organizations.

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