Tom Spangler turns the page

Betty BeanFeature, Government

Sheriff-elect Tom Spangler plans to keep his campaign promises. There’ll be fewer chiefs and more officers in schools, on the road and in the jail in a Spangler administration.


And, in a departure from longstanding department tradition, no retribution.

The election was decided in the Republican primary, where the former chief deputy piled up a 65-35 margin over opponent Lee Tramel. Spangler will be unopposed in the August general election, and he enjoyed overwhelming – but not unanimous – support from within the department, along with scores of retired officers and their families who volunteered for his campaign (many observers said he fielded more volunteers than any candidate they can remember).

Spangler says he meant what he said when he promised that he won’t mess with employees who supported Tramel, the administrative chief of the department.

“You won’t see any retaliation from me. All I’m asking anyone to do is do your job. That’s just me. I’m still just Tom Spangler – I’m still Spanky,” he said, invoking his longtime nickname.

“I’ve always treated people the way I’d want to be treated myself. There were officers who told me, ‘I’m really in a bind here.’ I told them the same thing I said during this whole campaign – ‘I don’t expect to get every vote. Support whoever you want to support. Just do it in a professional manner. Do what your heart tells you to do.’ ”

One of Spangler’s criticisms of the Knox County Sheriff’s Office was that it is top heavy with high-paid administrators. Ten chiefs and assistant chiefs on the law enforcement side, five on the corrections side. He said he will reduce those numbers as employees retire, but his ability to do so is limited by the Merit Council, which protects career law enforcement officers. Tramel and Chief Deputy Eddie Biggs have reportedly said they plan to leave the department when the new administration takes over.

Spangler said that Hugh Holt, the chief procurement officer whom Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones hired three days after Holt was forced out of a similar job with Knox County for allegedly harassing a female employee, presents a problem since Jones has placed him under Merit Board protection. (Holt resigned under fire Oct. 28, 2016, and Jones hired him on Oct. 31 and gave him a $500 raise). Holt was placed in charge of purchasing for the sheriff’s office and made $141,430.90 in 2017. Former Attorney General Randy Nichols, who made $82,132 in 2017 as a substance abuse and domestic violence consultant, is not under Merit Board protection.

Holt and Nichols are golf partners of Jones. Spangler said he doesn’t play much golf – “I’m a fisherman.

“I’d like to have my administrators in there. That’s something I get to do – choose my own staff, within those limits. So as those chiefs retire, I’m not going to replace those positions and I’ll put that money into patrol and corrections. I’m not going to push anybody to retire; just when they decide to retire, that’s what I plan on doing.”

Tramel’s primary campaign issue was fighting the opioid epidemic by providing treatment to addicts. Spangler said he does not entirely disagree.

“I said I was not going to turn the jail in to a treatment center, but I’m not blind to the fact that we need to direct those individuals who need help to the right agencies that can provide that help.

“Corrections has programs already going on and some of those programs maybe need to be boosted. I’m not against those programs. I just don’t want us as law enforcement to become psychiatrists or medical doctors.”

Spangler is a 29-year officer with the Knox County Sheriff’s Office who worked his way up the career ladder from jailer to chief deputy and director of training and head of the aviation unit, earning a four-year college degree in organizational management along the way.

Despite his professional credentials and his popularity within the department, former Sheriff Tim Hutchison passed Spangler over and recommended Jimmy “J.J.” Jones to replace him when he was forced out of office in 2007 by a court decision upholding term limits.

Spangler was appointed interim sheriff and served for several months while the chaos was sorted out, and retired as chief deputy in 2010. He went to the Blount County Sheriff’s Office for a short spell, but left after he was offered an opportunity to chase his lifetime dream of becoming a professional bass fisherman. He joined the FTW Tour for one season.

“Was it fun? It was enjoyable and very competitive. Just like any other professional sport, you got to have sponsors. There were 150-175 professional anglers competing for a $100,000 first place prize. They take it very seriously. And no, I never won any. I did it for that one year, 2011-12. Then my sponsor sold the company and the new owner did away with non-essentials – and I was a non-essential.”

In late 2012, Spangler took Blount County Sheriff Jim Berrong up on his standing offer to return as director of training, and he stayed there until he started his run for sheriff of Knox County. He said he is very grateful to Berrong for the opportunity, and Berrong has been an outspoken Spangler supporter this election season.

Spangler’s wife, Linda, is a nurse and was injured recently when an ambulance she was riding in with a patient wrecked on Emory Road.  The Spanglers plan to take a week’s vacation this month to unwind. They have two daughters, Mellony and Mallory, a granddaughter, Macey, and two step-granddaughters, Kelsey and Cassidy.

This Spangler campaign ad illustrates his support from law enforcement:

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