The Hamilton County Commission would have to wait at least seven days to name an interim sheriff if Sheriff Billy Long resigns or is ousted from office, according to Chairman Bill Hullander.
“We have to give seven days’ public notice,” he said.
The commission requires 10 days’ notice, but commissioners could vote unanimously to cut that period to seven days, Mr. Hullander said.
He said he thinks the commission would select an interim sheriff as quickly as possible, but he is not encouraging commissioners to make any commitments to candidates just yet.
Commissioner Larry Henry earlier suggested that Chief Deputy Allen Branum, who is running the sheriff’s department, serve as interim sheriff. He said Chief Branum still would be a good choice, but he noted that he met with former Sheriff John Cupp on Monday.
“I’m just weighing all the options,” he said.
Commissioner Curtis Adams, who said he thought the County Commission would back Mr. Cupp as interim sheriff, said he now is less certain.
“My thought is that we haven’t even had time to talk about it,” he said.
Commissioner Jim Coppinger said he would like to hold interviews with all those interested in the sheriff’s position.
The interim sheriff would hold office until an election for a new sheriff likely to be held in August.
According to Hamilton County Republican Party Chairwoman Connie Weathers, the county GOP would select its candidate for sheriff at a caucus rather than through a primary.
Tennessee state Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, said Monday he is considering seeking the job.
“That’s where my heart is, in law enforcement,” said Rep. Dean, a retired 27-year Chattanooga Police Department veteran and former East Ridge mayor.
Former Deputy Chief Jim Hammond and former Deputy Chief Andy Derryberry, who unsuccessfully challenged former Sheriff Cupp in the 2006 GOP primary, also have been mentioned as possibilities for the post.
Mr. Derryberry on Monday said in a statement that he would not seek the sheriff’s post if it came open.
Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey on Monday said that no matter how Sheriff Long leaves office, the process “won’t drag on a long time.”
“I think everybody’s anticipating that he’ll resign,” Mr. Ramsey said.
Mr. Ramsey said he and the Hamilton County Commission would recommend that County Attorney Rheubin Taylor file an ouster suit against Sheriff Long if the sheriff does not resign, but he did not predict when that might happen.
Mr. Hullander on Monday joined commissioners Curtis Adams, Fred Skillern, Richard Casavant and Larry Henry in calling for the sheriff’s resignation, bringing the total doing so to five of the nine commissioners. The commissioners who have called for the sheriff’s resignation are Republicans, as is Mr. Ramsey. Sheriff Long is a Democrat.
Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman John Bailes issued a statement on Monday, saying that “injecting party politics into the judicial proceedings concerning Sheriff Long is petty and unproductive.”
Mr. Taylor, the county attorney, said his office or District Attorney Bill Cox’s office could file an ouster suit against Sheriff Long. He said the County Commission and County Mayor Claude Ramsey would have to advise him to start ouster proceedings before he took any action.
“Generally our office would not do that unless directed to do so,” he said. “I wouldn’t take that action on my own.”
Mr. Cox could not be reached for comment Monday.
County Commissioner Warren Mackey, a Democrat, said on Sunday that Sheriff Long is “innocent until proven guilty” and should not be removed from office until convicted by a jury.
Commissioner Greg Beck, also a Democrat, said he wants to take time to examine the evidence and make an informed decision.
Democratic Commissioner John Allen Brooks could not be reached for comment Monday.
Mr. Coppinger, a Republican, stopped short of calling for a resignation, but he said he would prefer “that Billy Long step up to his responsibility if he sees a preponderance of the evidence.”
Staff writer Andy Sher contributed to this story.