Is Tom Spangler tough enough?

Sandra ClarkFeature, Gossip and Lies

Sheriff-elect Tom Spangler beat the man most folks thought would win. Spangler topped Lee Tramel 65-35 percent in the May Republican Primary. With no Democratic opponent, “Spanky” will lead the ticket on Aug. 2. And then the most popular man in the county will start to roll downhill.

It’s impossible to fulfill the expectations of his supporters, many of them his personal friends, others just disgruntled with the way things are in the Sheriff’s Office. For every promotion or hire, he’ll leave unhappy contenders. For every budget-busting effort to gain raises for his deputies, he’ll annoy the conservative GOP base who hoist the banner of low taxes above any government program, even public safety.

My test will be his decisions on the top-heavy administrative staff that current Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones has assembled. The News Sentinel released a database this month that shows 107 people making over $100,000 in county government (excluding Knox County Schools and a couple of other agencies). Find it here.


An example is Hugh Holt, the former Knox County procurement director who was let go by Mayor Tim Burchett and immediately hired by Sheriff Jones at an increase in pay. In July, Holt was earning $149,359 as procurement director in the Sheriff’s Office – a position that did not exist a year ago, when Holt’s job for the county included the sheriff. Now, Matt Myers earns $124,088 to head the county’s purchasing.

During the campaign, I asked Spangler and Tramel whether the job was necessary. Three times Tramel hedged, saying it was Jones’ decision. Three times Spangler said no, someone else was on staff who had handled purchasing in conjunction with the county’s office. Spangler said money for salaries should go to deputies and corrections officers.

(Amazingly, Holt’s salary exceeds that of Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Eddie Biggs, Trustee Ed Shouse, court clerks Mike Hammond and Cathy Shanks, senior library director Myretta Black, MPC executive director Gerald Green, elections administrator Cliff Rodgers, engineers Jim Snowden and Cindy Pionke, Register of Deeds Sherry Witt and County Clerk Foster Arnett.)

At the Powell Republican Club last week, Spangler said he will put more deputies on the street. “We will build on a good department and make it better.” He added, “I’ve got 240 volunteers working the polls on election day. I can’t let them down. I won’t let them down.”

In a county where a new officer starts at $36,000, Spangler knows what to do:

  • Reorganize headquarters (reducing top jobs) and abolish the office of procurement;
  • Reassign administrators to field work;
  • Establish step-pay so deputies don’t have to be assistant chiefs to get a raise.

Here’s hoping he’s tough enough to get it done.

Oh, yes, one more
  • Charlie Susano will face a test of his own upon taking office as clerk of Circuit, Sessions and Juvenile courts. The KNS database shows work-from-home deputy clerk Ray Hill making $70,000. Hill is a former legislator and county commissioner who writes extensively for a local newspaper while drawing a county salary.
  • And there are at least two former commissioners earning $37,000 each as court officers, also hired by the sheriff. Ironically, both Mark Cawood and Greg “Lumpy” Lambert were champions of low taxes while on the commission.

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