Sheriff Hammond defends endorsement of Hullander in Hamilton County mayor's race

Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond answers questions during a news conference at the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office in the Hamilton County-Chattanooga Courts Building on Monday, March 8, 2021, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond is defending his choice to make an endorsement in the county mayor's race despite his office's policy prohibiting employees from doing so.

Hammond last month announced he had endorsed mayor candidate Matt Hullander of Chattanooga in the Republican primary on May 3.

While it is largely against the office's code of conduct for employees to endorse political candidates, Hammond said in a Tuesday phone interview that he is exempt from that standard.

"I'm a constitutional officer as sheriff, so I'm not an employee that is covered under civil service," Hammond said, adding that it's an important distinction because if voters take issue with an official's endorsement, they can simply not vote for that official.

(READ MORE: Hullander picks up Hammond endorsement in mayor's race)

The department's code of conduct and appearance states that "no employee of the sheriff's office shall make any public endorsement of any candidate in any campaign for elected office; provided that, if an employee or deputy sheriff is running for an elected office, then such restriction shall not apply to that employee or deputy sheriff's own campaign."

But