editorial (2007-04)

A Commission Race for a High-profile Office

The sheriff's job should go to Administrative Chief Deputy J.J. Jones

A Commission Race for a High-profile Office

Sheriff Tim Hutchison is on the way out of office, and the matter of his replacement lies with Knox County Commission, who voted this week to make appointments Jan. 31 in a special meeting with a minimum of public input. Since the state Supreme Court upheld the county Charter's term limits amendment, a dozen offices are up for grabs.

Though the Commission will appoint eight members of its own body and four constitutional officers, including a county clerk, a trustee, a register of deeds, and a sheriff, it is the sheriff's office that has raised the most interest.

The candidates for that high-profile law enforcement appointment are mostly current members of the Sheriff's Department's hierarchy, although at least a couple of former law enforcement officers have given the commission their resumes.

Topping the list is Jimmy "J.J." Jones, who had a notorious falling out with Hutchison, resigned in a name-calling huff and ran against him in the 2002 Republican primary. After working for the city of Knoxville Police Department as a special investigator in the "cold crimes" unit, Jones made up with the sheriff and has been serving as administrative chief deputy.

Well respected in the ranks as a former patrol officer and Metro Narcotics investigator, Jones was chief of detectives before the resignation flap. People who worked with him on the street and in the office describe him as a good cop   and a very smart law enforcement professional, with 21 years at the Sheriff's Department and another six years with the city police.

Considering that the Commission has brushed aside suggestions from here and elsewhere to seek out caretaker appointees to serve on Commission and in the constitutional offices until the next election, naming only persons who agreed not to run, good candidates for election by the voting public must be considered at this point.

Jones is also a well-connected politician after his 2002 experience, where he proved he could raise the money needed to run an effective campaign. We endorsed his candidacy at that time. After he lost the primary, Jones supported the Democratic Party nominee, Jim Andrews, who later ran unsuccessfully for Chancery Court judge. That experience gave Jones credibility with county Republicans and Democrats who opposed Hutchison, and Hutchison forgave him his transgressions and welcomed him back to the Sheriff's Department with an effective promotion. Hutchison has indicated that Jones would be his personal choice to be his successor.

Second on the list is Tom "Spanky" Spangler, the sheriff's chief deputy, who is a pilot in charge of the department's aviation unit, where he was close to Hutchison, also a pilot. Also described as a good officer and a strong street cop before he came inside and eventually took over aviation, a Hutchison pet division, Spangler has had no prior political experience.

Third from inside the department is Robert "Bobby" Waggoner, the son of the late former Sheriff Bernard "Beefy" Waggoner and brother of retired Criminal Court Judge Brenda Waggoner. Close to family politics all his life, Bobby Waggoner hasn't run for office. A former railroad detective for the Norfolk Southern Railway, Waggoner has been with the sheriff's office for six years, but never worked patrol. He is one of Hutchison's assistant chief deputies.

Fourth on the departmental list is Lee Trammel, assistant chief deputy in charge of court services. Also without a patrol background, Trammel has served as a fund-raiser and community liaison official for the department.

Outside the department, ex-Mayor Randy Tyree, a Democrat who was long ago a narcotics investigator and who ran against Hutchison last year, is also seeking the Commission appointment. Tyree shouldn't have much hope, as the Commission is Republican-heavy. Retired Capt. Larry Hunter, who considered a run against Hutchison last year but withdrew his name out of family considerations, has also filed a resume with the Commission. Hunter was formerly the head of department operations, but he retired before announcing his run for sheriff.

Hutchison, though controversial nearly throughout his four terms as sheriff, deserves credit for thoroughly professionalizing the department. He's been recognized for that accomplishment, and he was named Lawman of the Year by the National Sheriff's Association a few years ago.

Aside from his and his department's onetime adversarial relationship with the city police and a reluctance to communicate with most of the news media, he built a reputation for solid law enforcement in the county, and he has been a political power to be reckoned with since his first election in 1990.

Hutchison should have a comfortable retirement, as the pension for which he is qualified is up to $81,000 a year, and he has a home-building and general construction business, homes here and in Gatlinburg, and part ownership of a Ford dealership in Oak Ridge.

The term-limited sheriff would be eligible to seek another term or two if he lays out of the fray for a full term, and he is young enough to consider it. We doubt that he'd have another go at the office, but who knows?

Meanwhile, J.J. Jones should get the appointment. He's the best choice to discharge the duties of sheriff and maintain the office's high professional level. And Jones would be expected to run for approbation by the voters and win that office outright in the next county election. m