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Sheriff’s race focuses on drug fight, resources

Photo by Brandon Hicks

Chris Mathes

Photo by Brandon Hicks

Dexter Lunceford

The sheriff’s race in Carter County’s May 6 Republican Primary is a showdown between two longtime law enforcement officers, each taking aim at illegal drugs.
Sheriff Chris Mathes is being challenged in the Carter County Republican Primary by retired Tennessee Highway Patrol Trooper Dexter Lunceford.
Mathes is seeking his third term as sheriff. Before being elected to the position in 2006, he worked as a special agent for the Drug Enforcement Agency.
Lunceford, who touts more than 30 years experience as a law enforcement officer, is also an honorably discharged U.S. Marine veteran.
Both Mathes and Lunceford cite illegal drugs as the No. 1 problem for law enforcement officers in the county.
Mathes said if re-elected, he would continue to fight the war on drugs in Carter County. “I love putting drug dealers in jail,” he said.
“When they elected me as sheriff, the citizens of Carter County wanted someone who would do something about the drug crime. They wanted drug dealers locked up. When I took over at the department, there was one deputy working drugs. We now have five full-time positions, as well as a mandate across the board … that we have a focus of working on drug cases,” Mathes has repeatedly said since his announcement for re-election in December.
While methamphetamine and drug usage levels continue to rise statewide, Mathes said Carter County ranks within the top of Tennessee’s 95 counties in the number of drug arrests, seizures and prosecutions.
The incumbent sheriff added that he feels that he has kept the promise to make drug enforcement a priority in the county. “My eight-year track record as sheriff in Carter County speaks for itself,” Mathes said.
Lunceford agrees that illegal drugs is a major, if not the No. 1 law enforcement problem in the county.
“Drugs in some form have been in existence since I was a kid. Being realistic, I know that we will never rid the community of illegal drugs, but we can fight them and we have to. Illegal drug use affects every family. Ninety percent of the criminal activity in Carter County is related to drugs in some form or fashion. You fight it by being pro-active in law enforcement,” Lunceford suggested.
He said if elected sheriff, patrol efforts would be increased dramatically by better managing both the manpower and resources already available and by supporting the Drug Task Force.
“We must have a strong drug enforcement presence,” Lunceford said.
Lunceford noted that in addition to dealing with the drug problem, management of the department’s resources would be a priority.
“In 2006, the department’s budget was $3.6 million. It is presently $7.2 million,” he said. “There must be better management of the assets we already have. We don’t need more money, we just need to better manage the resources we have,” he suggested.
Mathes agreed that a high number of arrests, alone, don’t define the sheriff’s office, but other things come into play such as operating under financial constraints and maintaining the Carter County Jail.
“We’ve always been under budget,” Mathes said. “We were the only (jail) out of the whole Upper East Tennessee region — according to our inspector — that didn’t have to be reinspected. We got our certificate on the first visit.”
Lunceford has proposed an alternative sentencing program for non-violent offenders. “We can reduce the cost of operating the jail by having these inmates report to work each day for non-profit agencies. That way we don’t have them sitting in the jail taking up space, and the taxpayers don’t have to provide them housing, and medical and dental care. I will work with our judges on establishing alternative sentences,” Lunceford said.
Both Lunceford and Mathes are Carter County natives and have proven records in law enforcement.
Lunceford has been married 28 years to the former Tamela Grindstaff. He is the father of two daughters, Tessa, who is getting ready to graduate from law school, and Jessica, who is a sophomore at East Tennessee State University.
Mathes is the father of a five-year-old son, C.J.
The winner of the Republican primary will face James Parrish, a former Carter County chief deputy and retired U.S. Army Lt. Colonel, who is running as an Independent in the August General Election.