In about a month, Hamilton County will have an interim sheriff committed to staying out of the August election for the office, the County Commission decided Thursday.
“We’re under real cloudy skies right now, and (taking) a little time might clear that up,” Commissioner Fred Skillern said.
The person the commission appoints on March 5 will serve until a sheriff is elected in the next county general election, which is Aug. 7.
Under the timeline the commission approved 8-0, applicants seeking the sheriff’s position would have to submit letters stating their intent to seek the job to the commission by Feb. 18 at 4 p.m. The commission tentatively scheduled interviews for the sheriff position for Feb. 21 at 9 a.m.
Commission Chairman Bill Hullander on Wednesday suggested a timeline that would have named an interim sheriff within two weeks.
The commission voted 8-1 to require that the interim sheriff not seek the office in the August election.
“It’d have to be a caretaker,” said Commissioner Curtis Adams. “If you appointed a guy, he’d spend six months running (for office).”
Mr. Skillern said he did not want the commission to give anyone a political advantage in the August race.
“I just don’t want us to be perceived as trying to set up anything for anyone,” he said.
County Mayor Claude Ramsey noted the commission can require applicants to say they will not run, but it may not legally be able to keep them out of the race.
“In court, the guy could say he changed his mind, and then it would be between him and the people,” he said.
The sheriff’s position came open when former Sheriff Billy Long resigned Wednesday.
Mr. Long, who was arrested Saturday, faces federal extortion, money laundering, gun and drug charges. He is scheduled to have a preliminary hearing and a bond hearing today.
At Thursday’s meeting, commissioners discussed the type of candidate they were looking for to take over the sheriff’s department temporarily.
Commissioner Richard Casavant suggested possibly seeking out retired FBI agents.
“I’m sure there’s some retired federal, maybe FBI, people out there ... that are above reproach,” he said.
Commissioner Greg Beck recommended giving the reins over to Chief Deputy Allen Branum, who is serving as acting sheriff.
“The only person who knows the most about the sheriff’s department and what’s going on with the sheriff’s department is the chief deputy,” he said.
But Chief Branum said he was not sure that he would seek the interim spot. Instead, he may run in the election, he said.
“My main focus is still on healing and moving this department in the right direction,” Chief Branum said.
Former Sheriff John Cupp, who has expressed interest in the interim position, attended Thursday’s meeting. He said he agreed with the commission’s decision to appoint a caretaker.
“The idea of a caretaker is to make the transition smooth,” he said.
Mr. Beck and Tennessee state Rep. Vince Dean each said he is considering running in the August election but would not seek the interim position.