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Dems meet to pick Sheriff Alexander’s successor

Democratic officials in Haywood County are gearing up to choose a successor to outgoing Haywood County Sheriff Tom Alexander, who will retire from his post of more than 22 years on Feb. 2.

Sheriffs are usually elected to office, but since Alexander still has two years left in his term, the county’s Democratic Executive Committee must appoint a replacement.

Alexander said he had considered retiring before winning his sixth term in 2006, but wanted to stay on through the completion of the county’s law enforcement and justice center.

The committee is taking resumes for the sheriff post until 5 p.m. on Jan. 21.

Haywood County Democratic Party Chairman Bill Jones said he’s already been contacted by several people who want the sheriff position, but was unsure as of press time how many candidates will vie for the spot (a list of candidates will be available on the Smoky Mountain News Web site after the resume deadline).

“I’ve been contacted by several individuals, but there’s a big difference between contacting and actually doing it,” he said. “We know there will be more than one or two. It’s going to be very interesting.”

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The candidates will appear at a forum from 1 to 3 p.m. the following Saturday, Jan. 24, where they’ll state their case for why they should be the next sheriff and field questions from the Democratic Executive Committee.

The executive committee is comprised of an assortment of county Democrats. The group includes all Democratic elected officials — everyone from mayors to the tax collector to the register of deeds — plus the party’s chairs and vice chairs from each of the 31 precincts.

Jones said the committee is taking the responsibility of selecting a new sheriff very seriously.

“We’re charged with electing a person who is capable and qualified of being sheriff for all the citizens of Haywood County,” Jones said. “This is a heavy responsibility, and not something to be taken lightly. We look at it with a heavy sense of duty.”

The executive committee will vote for a sheriff at its Feb. 7 meeting. A candidate must receive 50 percent of the votes plus one additional vote to win election. The committee will hold as many votes as needed until one candidate emerges with the majority.

The executive committee will recommend the winning candidate to the Haywood County Board of Commissioners. If commissioners take action and approve the choice at their next possible meeting, the county could have a new sheriff in place as early as Feb. 16.

Chief Deputy Bobby Suttles, the sheriff’s office second in command, will take the helm of the department in the interim between Alexander’s retirement and the selection of a new sheriff.

Alexander’s retirement comes amid allegations that he may be involved in the video poker investigation that has already sent former Buncombe County Sheriff Bobby Medford to prison. A witness during Medford’s trial mentioned the Haywood County sheriff being paid off, and at least two subpoenas have been issued for information about Alexander and the sheriff’s department. No charges have been filed.

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