Hamilton County Commission interviews candidates for sheriff
Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Allen Branum said he has taken one trip to Tunica, Miss., but he did not go with former Sheriff Billy Long and did not gamble “any substantial money.”
“That’s my own private, personal life,” Chief Branum said following Thursday’s interviews for the county’s interim sheriff position. “It’s nothing to do with this issue.”
Chief Branum told commissioners he could not remember when the trip occurred and did not say who went along. He said Mr. Long was present in the building with him but did not travel with him.
“I don’t gamble,” Chief Branum said.
County Commissioner Richard Casavant, who asked the question, said with Chief Branum’s response, “the hole was dug deeper.”
“If everything was above board, the matter could be set straight,” Dr. Casavant said. “(Chief Branum’s answer) confirms the fact that I don’t want him to be interim sheriff.”
Mr. Long, who resigned Feb. 6 and faces federal extortion, money laundering, gun and drug charges, made a number of trips to casinos in Las Vegas and Tunica, according to officials.
Dr. Casavant said he would prefer the interim sheriff to come from outside county government. Several other commissioners have said they would prefer a former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent or U.S. marshal.
The County Commission interviewed Chief Branum and nine other applicants for interim sheriff Thursday morning.
Of the 10 applicants, six are current or former employees of the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department. Two are former FBI agents, one is a former Tennessee State Trooper and one is former head of safety for Durkan Patterned Carpet.
The chief deputy’s interview lasted about twice as long as the other applicants’ interviews.
Commission Chairman Bill Hullander said he though commissioners “were being a little unfair” in asking more questions of Chief Branum. He said he was satisfied that Chief Branum had not done anything illegal but wished his answer had been clearer.
“I wished he had just come out and answered it upfront,” he said.
Commissioners plan to select the interim March 5. The interim will serve until a new sheriff, to be elected Aug. 7, takes office.
The commission required applicants to promise not to run in the August election. All 10 of the applicants said they have no intention of running if selected.
Commissioners asked the applicants questions regarding school resource officers, staffing and the department’s budget.
Most of the applicants said they planned to expand the SRO program, though William Curtis, a former FBI agent who now runs a private investigation agency, said some redistribution may be needed.
“I think the sheriff has put a lot of people in that program who could be out on the street,” he said.
Sheriff’s Lt. Lenda Clark said she would like to expand the program, suggesting that additional funding should possibly come from the county school board.
All the applicants said they were not planning any major personnel changes.
After Thursday’s interviews, Mr. Hullander said it may be difficult to get a majority of commissioners to agree on a candidate.
“I don’t know if there’s any of them that’s got five votes,” he said.
Commissioner Fred Skillern said “there are probably three or four people that I could vote for.”
* Former Chief Deputy Dave Alverson
* Sheriff’s Lt. Lenda Clark
* James Durkan, former head of safety for Durkan Patterned Carpet
* Former Chief Deputy Richard Thurman
* Sheriff’s Staff Sgt. Tim Akins
* Former Sheriff’s Lt. Tom Ratledge
* Chief Deputy Allen Branum
* Former Tennessee State Trooper Roy Phillips
* Former FBI Agent William Curtis
* Former FBI Agent Orin Sprague
* March 5: The County Commission will select the interim sheriff
* April 3: Candidates for the August election must file with Election Commission
* Aug. 7: Election for the new sheriff