Hamilton County: Sheriff acknowledges invitation mistake

Hamilton County: Sheriff acknowledges invitation mistake

June 16th, 2010 by Dan Whisenhunt in Local - Breaking News

After previously questioning Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond for using seized drug money to buy a car for himself, county commission Chairman Fred Skillern on Wednesday criticized the sheriff for putting his office number on an invitation to a political event next week.

"No elected official should use county equipment or phones to further their election," Mr. Skillern said.

The invitation is for Sheriff Hammond's "Re-Election Reception" set for June 24 at the Renaissance Center in Georgia, which is owned by Emerson Russell, a Chattanooga businessman. The invitation says attendees can call the sheriff's office number to RSVP for the event.

Sheriff Hammond said using the publicly paid line to receive responses to the invitation was a mistake.

"It unfortunately points out some of my human weaknesses," Mr. Hammond said Wednesday after the County Commission meeting.

Sheriff Hammond, a Republican, faces a challenge from Democrat Lloyd Clendenen in the Aug. 5 county election.

The sheriff said it's not a fundraiser per se, but he will accept donations. He's paying for it out of his own campaign funds, he said, and it will cost $7,000 to $8,000.

The sheriff would not say who brought the problem with the invitation to his attention.

The Hamilton County Election Commission and County Attorney Rheubin Taylor said the invitation doesn't break any laws or county policies.

Though commissioners Wednesday didn't bring up the sheriff's Chevrolet Tahoe, Mr. Skillern said they likely will speak publicly with Sheriff Hammond the next time he asks for money to buy cars.

Sheriff Hammond said the whole thing resulted from a misunderstanding among county commissioners.

He said he received the Tahoe when he traded cars with the captain of the narcotics division. It was one of 11 undercover cars the county bought using money obtained from drug cases.

Mr. Taylor said he sent a letter to the sheriff regarding the car purchases at the request of the commission.

Sheriff Hammond said the letter asked him the mileage, years and cost of the vehicles and he responded to it this week.

When he makes a decision, Sheriff Hammond said he asks himself if it is moral, ethical and legal.

"(The Tahoe) to me fit all three," he said. And, he added, "It's got more leg room."