Sheriff's race develops at starting gate

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Twists and turns characterize Marshall County's election campaign for sheriff as candidates jockey for position even before the August ballot is set for the race.

Lewisburg Police Chief Chuck Forbis won't be running for the top cop position in the county, announcing "I'm not running out of loyalty to the community and the men and women of the department. I'd rather remain in my current position."

Forbis had only announced his intention to run. Technically, he was only thinking about running since he'd only obtained a petition to be named on the Aug. 5 ballot. He refrained from filing the document.

A similar step - obtaining a petition - has been taken by Patrick E. Ryan, 25, of 1711 Fox Lane, apparently a dark horse candidate - unknown to a handful of law enforcement officers, and those in related offices who were consulted recently.

Meanwhile, Norman Dalton, an early and well-known candidate for sheriff resigned on Friday from his position as captain of the detective division at the Marshal County Sheriff's Department.

At least two other candidates are in the race for sheriff. They are Lewisburg Police Capt. David Ray and Roger Fagan, a former chief deputy here and police chief in Cornersville. Both report routine activities in their campaigns.

Dalton resigned because of an opinion by the Tennessee Attorney General's office.

"A deputy sheriff's announcement of his or her candidacy for the office of sheriff would constitute an endorsement of candidacy of that candidate and, if subject to the County Sheriff's Civil Service aw of 1974, such deputy sheriff would be in violation of (state law) unless he or she first resigned from employment," according to the opinion dated Jan. 25.

Dalton knew of a previous opinion, had considered seeking a waiver, but concluded his intention to win the race was strong and now he's stepped away from nearly six weeks of pay before his petition is due at the election office to have his name on the printed ballot.

His resignation also cost him retirement benefits.

Dalton resigned Friday "so I would be able to run for the office of sheriff," he said. "According to civil service and the AG's opinion, we should not be working when we run for office.

"From what I gather, you could challenge it, but you'd have to go through Chancery Court and, based on what I found out from attorneys, it would be better if I just resigned.

"I'd planned to work until I was notified by the Election Commission that I was qualified by POST," the Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission located at the state Police Academy at Donelson in Davidson County.

In Tennessee, candidates for sheriff must meet a series of qualifications to serve as sheriff if they're elected. They include a high school diploma, birth certificate, fingerprints and suitable results from a psychological examination. Sheriff is the only elected office in the state with such a requirement.

"I've carried all my paperwork to POST," Dalton said, "but they have papers from candidates in all 95 counties, and they then notify the election commission and it notifies me" about having been certified as qualified to serve if elected.

"My opinion was that it would be all right to work until that point," Dalton said.

Fagan and Ray were asked about Dalton and the attorney general's opinion, as well as Forbis' decision against running.

"Anybody who wants to run, ought to be able to run," Fagan said, indicating he didn't think the situation was fair and that he'd been unaware of the policy.

Ray holds a similar view.

"It might be unfair, but I'm not sure how he came up with the ruling," the police captain said.

He's unaffected by the opinion that's focused on sheriff's departments with civil service protections and those that receive federal funding that makes them subject to the federal Hatch Act, which Congress originally passed to protect federal employees from political pressure to contribute to political campaigns.

The unfairness also affects retirement benefits, noted Ray, who was asked how he felt about rehiring Dalton.

"At this point, I wouldn't have any problem with Norman coming back to the department," Ray said, assuming he's elected sheriff. The police captain was uncertain if the former detective captain could return to the same position.

Meanwhile, Forbis' decision against running came as Lewisburg City Council appears to prefer to address other current business, instead of focusing on police personnel matters.