Feb 2 2009
07:38 am

Last year, some government watchdog types went hard core over some allegedly missing Blount Co. Sheriff's Office vehicles. Now, Knox County Commission can't get a straight answer from the Sheriff's Office regarding take-home vehicles.

Every time something like this comes up I am puzzled by the supernatural powers granted (or taken by?) sheriff's departments in Tennessee. As I understand it, the only Constitutional duty of this Tennessee elected office is head jailer. Yet they spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to get elected and build permanent fiefdoms that wield more political clout than most county executives.

They are answerable to no one other than voters, who keep reelecting them because their house hasn't been robbed lately so the sheriff must be doing a good job.

They've effectively become a fourth branch of government. Tennessee really ought to rethink this. No other law enforcement types are elected in Tennessee are they? Certainly not in the federal government.

BoB W.'s picture

Don't tase me, bro!

R. Neal: I'm absolutely 100% on board with you on this issue. I believe we should call for (much) more accountability on this issue. How about some suggestions from you on what we, as citizens, can do to improve the situation. Many of us applaud you for your wisdom. Please dispense more asap!

R. Neal's picture

I would start by making it

I would start by making it an appointed office(1), like most police chiefs or U.S. Attorney General or FBI Director. The Tennessee Constitution would probably have to be changed(2) to do it. I guess it will have to wait until we ban gay marriage and abortion.

[1] I realize that wouldn't remove all the politics, just concentrate it, but I still think it would work better if they reported to the county executive as part of the executive branch.

[2] Although in the case of Knox County I believe they could amend the home rule charter to eliminate the office of Sheriff?

bill young's picture


TCA 8-8-201 outlines the duties of the sheriff.Indeed the constitutional duty of the sheriff is to be the chief jailer.

IMO it would take a constitutional convention & the passage by the voters of an amendment to alter the duties & the office of the sheriff.

In the late '70s a constitutional convention was held.One amendment passed by the voters changed the terms for the office of sheriff.

Before the amendment passed the sheriff only served 2 year terms & "no person shall be eligible to the office of sheriff more than six years in any eight year term."

The constitutional amendment created the present four term & is not limited except in the case of a home rule charter.We know all about that.

The amendment changing from 2 year terms with limits to the present 4 year term without limits(with the home rule exception)was dubbed the Fate Thomas amendment after the politically powerful sheriff of Davidson County.

Fate Thomas wanted to hold on to his powerful political position & not have step down after serving 3 consective 2 year terms as required under the old constitutional provision.

Fate Thomas ended up in jail after being convicted of political corruption charges.

FYI the Davidson County sheriff's sole requrement is to be chief jailer.

The constitutional amendments of the late 70's also created the county executive & the county commission.

FYI the constitional convention of the late 70's first charge was to amend the the constitutional usury on interest rates which was "not to exceed ten per centum per annum." That passed too.

I disagree with the appointment of the sheriff.If we ever went to metro government I would not want the sheriff limited to being cheif jailer.I want the "top cop" elected.As I pointed with Fate Thomas even a chief jailer can wield currupted political power.

I like the school supertendent being appointed for the reasons given by Governor McWherter when he passed the BEP.

The small d democrat in me wants the folks with guns having to run for election & with term limits it's going to be hard for any incumbent sheriff to build the political machines we have seen in the past.

If their are abuses in the jail of prisonors or brutal tatics on the streets I want that sheriff to face election.

As corny as it sounds I believe in elections & I dont want the folks with guns to think they can get away with anything without facing the wrath of the voters.

Nobody's picture

The BIG D in me

We should have a metro government in Knoxville and Knox County. It would save so much $ by eliminating duplicate services not to mention all of the TIF monies. I agree with R. Neal easier to remove an appointed Sheriff rather by ouster suite or taking chances at the polls next election day.

R. Neal's picture

Terms limits, like in Knox

Terms limits, like in Knox Co., would be a good compromise.

I just think some offices that require certain qualifications and specialized training and skills should be nominated by panels of people qualified to judge the qualifications and skills, then be appointed by the executive, approved the legislative, and report to the executive.

Some other spots such as property assessor probably fall into that category.

bill young's picture

Progresisve vs Populist

The progressive in me

1.I agree with all the constitutional county offices being appointed except the sheriff & is why I voted for the white ballot charter amendments last year.

2.I agree with your assement of a panel ect & is the basic arguement presented by Governor McWherter when he proposed the appointed school superentendent in his BEP package.

The populist in me

1.Just can't go with an appointed sheriff.

2.I want the sheriff to face the voters because IMO those that are dispossessed can not be heard in the appointment process.

3.Back in the 80s the sheriff of Hamblen County died.

The sheriff that was appointed fit the bill of the proper folks of the county.This fellow had been deputy chief of the Morristown police department.Dressed in suits..went to Chamber of Commerce meetings..& was not associated with the currupted politics of the sheriffs department.

But he treated the mamas & the daddys that came to see their kids in jail with contempt.Ran off good ole boy deputies that treated folks with respect not worthless fools.

Because of this he couldnt get information when big crimes were happening..none of the petty thieves & sniches would talk to him.

I helped this fellow in the campaign that had a beer belly..chomped a cigar & didnt speak the kings english.He was from the wrong side of the tracks.

But over & over again in the trailer parks & shotgun houses he told them mommies & daddies them prisoners were people too.

The good ole boy won.The county was safer because he put the real bad guys in jail.

3. Oh yes & the folks with guns need to be accountable to those with no power...except the ballot box.

R. Neal's picture

But also don't forget, if

But also don't forget, if they're appointed they can be fired, and you don't have to wait for an election or an ouster lawsuit.

bill young's picture

Agree to disagree

I've had this debate with many of my friends.

Some can't understand how I can be 100% behind the appointment of the school superentindent & not be for the appointment of the sheriff.

Others cant understand how I can be 100% behind the election of the sheriff & not be for the election of the school superindent.

Assholes & opinions everybodies got one & thats mine on this.

So R & others we will just agree to disagree on this issue.

I will say this..if those that are for metro adopted my position I think we could get it passed in the county.

Mello's picture

Let's talk income tax on those company cars....

A. Some businesses make you drive your own car to work then you get to use the company car during work hours.

B. Some businesses allow you to drive your company car to work, at work and home again.

C. If you are real lucky, your employer may even let you drive that company car any place you choose while you are off work.

Our family has had either B or C for most of our working lives. It is a perk we enjoy. However- we pay federal income tax on the use of the company car when it is B or C. The employer has always been responsible for reporting that on the W-2.

How can any government not know who is driving those cars home if they are responsible for reporting that perk as federal income?

Side note- there is/was something in the IRS tax code that driving a well marked patrol car home was not taxable at all.

redmondkr's picture

When my cousin lived with me

When my cousin lived with me a few years ago he had a cruiser that stayed parked in the driveway when he wasn't working. It was not at all unusual for him to get called out in the wee hours as he was on the SWAT team. The Crown Vic was a sort of mobile office for him.

When he retired, he cleaned it out and there among the weapons and emergency flares were a roll of aluminum foil for one of his 'clients' who frequently required a grounded hat and several of these little bears in plastic bags for easing the fright of children at accidents or domestic violence scenes.

Then there was the Sunday afternoon when a scroungy looking individual rang the doorbell and announced that he had seen the cruiser parked in front of the house, thought he had warrants against him, and wondered if he could get a ride to the intake facility.

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bizgrrl's picture

a roll of aluminum foil for

a roll of aluminum foil for one of his 'clients' who frequently required a grounded hat

No, not really!?!? Hah!

redmondkr's picture

Oh yes. Sometimes she would

Oh yes.

Sometimes she would be off her medication because it made her feel that she no longer needed it. Sometimes she was off it because she couldn't afford it that month.

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