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Staff File Photo / Former Chattanooga police Sgt. Bill Phillips has been elected sheriff of Sequatchie County.

Republican primaries for sheriff across the region saw two incumbents in tight races against challengers, with the sheriff in Sequatchie County losing and Grundy County's winning with a four-vote margin.

Incumbent Sequatchie County Sheriff Coy Swanger lost his seat to party primary challenger Bill Phillips, a former Chattanooga police homicide investigator, 1,632 votes to 1,470, and in Grundy County, incumbent Sheriff Clint Shrum survived a scare, winning over party primary challenger David Strieby 801-797, unofficial election results show. Results are not official until local election commissions certify their ballots.

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The victor in Sequatchie County, Phillips, a 54-year-old resident of Lewis Chapel Mountain on the east side of the county, will face no Democratic opponent on Aug. 4 and is looking forward to implementing new programs aimed at battling the county's drug problems and building relationships with area communities.

"It was a great win. We were running against an incumbent, and to come out on top like that says a lot," Phillips said Wednesday in a telephone interview. "Our voters have spoken, and we're happy to listen to them."

Phillips plans changes inside and outside the office, he said.

"I have a personnel restructuring model that we're looking at implementing, and it also restructures the patrol units," he said. "We have a drug problem here like a lot of places, so we've got an idea for a drug program called SAFE, Sequatchie's Addiction-Free Environment. That's in the working stages, and we're looking forward to implementing that and helping those we can to get off drugs."

Phillips said there is a divide between communities across the county and the sheriff's office, and he hopes to foster better relationships with residents of outlying areas.

Dunlap, Tennessee, native Swanger, who won the sheriff's post in 2018 over Phillips and two other contenders, did not return phone messages left Wednesday at the sheriff's office seeking comment.

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In Grundy County, Shrum will now face independent challenger Heath Gunter in August. The incumbent said low voter turnout — around 20% — hurt the tally to some extent.

"It was nerve-wracking," Shrum, 49, of Tracy City, said Wednesday in a telephone interview. "As close as it was, I think it shows the strength of our leadership despite some of the things we've been through this term. And I believe people think we're still doing a good job, and they believe in what we're doing."

Shrum was referring to the effect on this year's campaign of the conviction of former Grundy County Chief Deputy Tony Bean in January on federal charges of deprivation of rights under color of law related to the three counts leveled in 2019 stemming from incidents in 2014 and 2017 involving Bean when he was chief of police in Tracy City. Bean faces sentencing in June.

Shrum said he plans to campaign hard leading up to the August general election. Shrum said his opponent led a positive campaign in the Republican primary.

"He conducted himself in a professional manner, and I'm certainly appreciative of that," Shrum said of Strieby.

Strieby, 38 of Altamont, was equally cordial Wednesday.

"It was a close race with a low voter turnout," Strieby said in a social media message. "The people voted for their candidate. Something for both myself and the current sheriff to be proud of. It was a hard race to run but a fun race with some very tense moments at the end of the night."

Meanwhile, sheriffs in Republican Primary races in Bledsoe, Bradley, Marion, McMinn, Meigs, Polk and Rhea counties won handily or had no challengers, and no Democrats qualified to run for sheriff in August in any of those counties.

In Bledsoe County, incumbent Sheriff Jimmy Morris beat challenger Clint Holloway in the Republican primary by a two-to-one margin, and Marion County's incumbent Republican sheriff, Ronnie "Bo" Burnett, won by more than 1,000 votes over primary challenger Paul West, records show. Bradley County incumbent Sheriff Steve Lawson had no primary challenger and will have no Democratic opponent in August, as is the case with incumbents McMinn County Sheriff Joe Guy, Meigs County Sheriff Jackie Melton, Polk County Sheriff Steve Ross and Rhea County Sheriff Mike Neal, records show.

Contact Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton.

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