The Hamilton County Commission sets in motion this morning the selection process for an interim sheriff following Wednesday’s resignation of Billy Long, Commission Chairman Bill Hullander said.
“I will announce at tomorrow’s recessed (commission) meeting that we will accept this (resignation) letter,” Mr. Hullander said at a Wednesday news conference announcing Sheriff Long’s resignation. “Also, we will (begin) the process of filling this position.”
Mr. Hullander said he would like to give those interested in the interim position about a week to send letters of intent to the commission office. He said he then would like to give commissioners about a week to interview the applicants.
Commissioners must decide whether to appoint an interim leader who would not run for sheriff in the August election.
Staff Photo by Gillian Bolsover — Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey, left, sits with county commissioners after reading former Sheriff Billy Long’s letter of resignation at the Hamilton County Courthouse on Wednesday.
Chief Deputy Allen Branum will continue to run the sheriff’s department until the commission selects an interim sheriff, Mr. Hullander said. The interim choice will hold the office until an election, likely in August, he said.
County Mayor Claude Ramsey read Mr. Long’s resignation letter at Wednesday’s news conference.
“I wish to publicly apologize to the citizens and voters of Hamilton County, the officers and employees of the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department, my family, friends and supporters for any embarrassment I may have caused them,” Mr. Long wrote.
Chattanooga attorney Jerry Summers, Mr. Long’s attorney, said the effect of the resignation on the former sheriff’s pending court case has not been discussed.
“The fact that he even got arrested, he feels, is an embarrassment to him and his fellow officers,” Mr. Summers said. “He could have fought it, but ... he felt like this was the right thing to do, even if he was acquitted.”
Mr. Summers said Mr. Long remains in “administrative isolation” at the Bradley County Jail and has a limited, pre-approved visitors’ list.
Mr. Long was arrested Saturday on federal charges of extortion, money laundering and giving a gun to someone he knew was a convicted felon. On Monday, prosecutors announced he also would be charged with possessing five or more grams of cocaine hydrochloride with intent to distribute.
He is scheduled to appear Friday afternoon in U.S. District Court for a preliminary hearing on the charges and a bond hearing.
Several former and current law enforcement officials have expressed interest in the interim sheriff job. Among those are former Sheriff John Cupp; Tennessee state Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge; former Deputy Chief Jim Hammond and Chief Branum.
Chief Branum said he plans to submit his name to be considered for interim sheriff but has not yet decided whether he would campaign for the term thereafter.
“I’m not a title seeker, but I’ve got a job to do,” Chief Branum said. “I’ll leave when the time is right, but we’ve got a lot of good things going on, and I’m not ready to give them up yet.”
Mr. Cupp, the 12-year incumbent Mr. Long beat in an August 2006 election, said Wednesday that he has no intention of running in the special election, but he would take the temporary position if asked.
“If I get it, fine. If I don’t, that’s OK also,” said the 76-year-old East Brainerd resident. “I’m enjoying retirement.”
County Commissioner Jim Coppinger said he wants an interim sheriff with “the utmost credibility and integrity going in,” which may or may not be someone now in the sheriff’s department.
He said the commission should tread lightly in determining whether to select an interim sheriff who also plans to run in August.
“I would have to think real hard on that particular question,” he said.
Mr. Hullander said he did not mind if the interim choice was someone who also planned to run in the election. He said his ideal person would be someone who does not make many changes in the way the department now is run.
Commissioner Warren Mackey said he would want the interim sheriff to “restore confidence within the sheriff’s department.”
The heads of Hamilton County’s Democratic and Republican parties said they would hold party caucuses to determine their candidates for the sheriff election.
Democratic Party Chairman John Bailes called Mr. Long’s resignation “a bold step.”
“We’re glad he made it,” he said of the Democratic former sheriff. “It allows him to have his day in court.”
Connie Weathers, chairwoman of the Hamilton County GOP, said former Sheriff Cupp would be “a logical choice” for interim sheriff.
“He served his people well,” she said.
At Wednesday’s Commission meeting, Commissioner Curtis Adams asked members of the public to keep the Long family in their prayers.
“I think something, mentally, happened to him,” Mr. Adams said of Mr. Long.
Most commissioners expressed support for the sheriff’s department and its employees.