Washington County Sheriff Keith Sexton promised change would come to the office if he was selected by the County Commission to serve, and at a press conference Thursday he announced several promotions and reassignments of operations staff.
In a press release, Sexton listed some of the changes he was implementing.
The sheriff, who formerly served in the Johnson City Police Department, is bringing three of his former co-workers with him to Jonesborough. They include:
• Former Johnson City Police Chief John Lowry will serve as chief deputy, bringing more than 40 years in public service to the job. Lowry served Johnson City as its chief for 10 years and Sexton said in a news release that he will bring “a wealth of law enforcement and organizational management experience to the position.”
• Thomas Dillard, who served as an investigator with the police department, joined the new administration as captain over the Criminal Investigations Department.
• Don Finley, who will be the county’s new jail administrator.
Sexton said five current Washington County Sheriff’s Offices deputies were promoted:
• Randall Wines was promoted to captain. Wines began his service with the WCSO in 1992 and had most recently served as a patrol platoon lieutenant.
• Kevin Sanders is now a lieutenant over school resource officers. He’s been with WCSO since 1996.
• Coit Dixon, who joined the WCSO in 2002, was promoted to lieutenant on patrol platoon one.
• Kevin Hurd, who joined the WCSO’s Reserves in 2008 and became a full-time deputy in 2015, was promoted to sergeant with the training unit.
• Tim Moore, who began his career with WCSO as a reserve in 2006 before being hired in 2007, was promoted to sergeant on patrol platoon three.
Lowry has been out of law enforcement for more than 10 years, so his POST certification has expired, but Sexton said that is already being addressed. POST allows former officers to get a waiver so they don’t have to repeat the police academy. It’s unlikely that waiver would be denied to Lowry. He will appear before the POST commission Dec. 17 to request that waiver.
“We should always be developing someone to replace us (and) never want to hold everything to yourself,” Sexton said. “I have full confidence in everyone here that has been promoted today.”
On the other end of promotions Sexton made, however, came several demotions and reassignments. Sexton would not comment on that at the press conference out of “respect” for those demoted.
“I don’t want to go into the demotions,” the sheriff said. “I don’t think it would be respectful to those who have taken demotions. But I will say, in general, they’ve been very cooperative and I consider them an integral part of this team.”
Sexton also said employees have been receptive to changes he’s made so far.
“From what I understand, what I’ve seen, it’s been a breath of fresh air for most people,” he said.
Sexton said he has a 30-day and a 100-day plan for certain goals, and aside from administrative changes, hiring personnel is at the top of his list.
“Right now one of the main things we need to get done is we need to get some people hired,” he said. “The detention center is so short-staffed. We have several that are in training now and we’ve developed a plan to fast-track people to get them working. The officers that are here are really tired. They’re working a lot of hours so inside the detention center we have a plan to get people working quickly.”
Staffing for the detention center has been a longstanding problem for the sheriff’s office. Low pay and dangerous working conditions tend to make the hiring process more difficult, even though the starting pay for jailers has been increased recently.
“What the detention officer does is just as important as what the patrol officer does,” Sexton said. “They are charged with the care of human beings and we take that very seriously.”
Right now there are 12 to 15 open positions at the detention center and five open slots on patrol.
“We’re working on that to build that back up,” Sexton said.
Also part of the 30-day plan is to have a full accounting of all sheriff’s office assets, evidence or other property. He did not get into what his 100-day plan holds.