Grundy County, Tenn., sheriff candidate Russell Baker's run for office has been clouded with questions about his residency and qualifications for the ballot.
Baker and state officials say he has met all the requirements to be on the ballot. Baker, an independent, is running against Democratic primary winner Clint Shrum.
Baker said he has owned property in Grundy County since 2009 but worked as a law enforcement officer while on military assignment, and occasionally as a civilian, in Florida. He said he had moved furniture and other belongings to Palmer, Tenn.
Election officials have been inundated with calls about the matter.
Baker said he asked officials with Tennessee's Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission whether he met residency and other requirements.
They said, "'It looks good to us; residency is not even an issue, but we do need to see that your military work was law enforcement related so you need to get a letter from the Air Force,'" Baker said.
Baker sent them the documents and the POST Commission certified him to be placed on the ballot.
That's despite a December opinion by County Attorney William C. Rieder stating that Baker did not meet residency requirements. According to Rieder, state law requires Baker to have lived in Grundy County for one year before the Feb. 20, 2014, qualifying deadline.
Rieder said Baker started living in Grundy County on Aug. 1, 2013, and registered to vote eight days later. He said Baker "did not become a resident of Grundy for the purposes of Tennessee Code Annotated 8-8-102 until he 'transferred his bodily presence' to Grundy County on Aug. 9, 2013."
But the chief counsel for Fire Prevention and Law Enforcement with the state Department of Commerce and Insurance Office of Legal Counsel said Baker qualifies for the ballot.
Joseph M. Underwood wrote in a March 14 letter to Grundy County Administrator of Elections Donna Basham: "The POST Commission has determined there is no justification to rescind Dr. Baker's eligibility to appear on the ballot for the office of Sheriff of Grundy County. The POST Commission considers this matter resolved."
Ditto for the state Election Commission.
Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins stated Tuesday in an email that "we rely on POST to fulfill the statutory duty given to them and they certified Mr. Baker. If someone does not believe he [Baker] should have been certified the proper way to challenge his qualifications at this point would be to go to court."
Basham said Friday that she was glad state officials stepped in to clear the air so voters would not be confused.
She also noted that the county's heated races, including the one for sheriff, had generated a large turnout.
"More than 1,800 voted as of today [Friday] and we still have tomorrow to go," she said.
Contact staff writer Ben Benton at firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter.com/BenBenton, www.facebook.com/ben.benton1 or 423-757-6569.
Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...