Sunday, August 24 2014 12:56 AM EDT2014-08-24 04:56:42 GMT
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MORRISTOWN (WATE) - Three Hamblen County Sheriff's Department employees were granted unpaid leaves of absence once they decided to run for sheriff. Weeks later, those three men were fired.
If sheriff's candidate Roy Rucker lost the primary, a document signed by Sheriff Esco Jarnigan guaranteed him his job back as a school resource officer.
"I feel like a man's word is his bond," Rucker says.
"At that time period, we were not clear as to all the ramifications that this law consisted of," Sheriff Jarnigan says.
The sheriff says at first, he thought he could keep former Deputy Rucker employed.
The other two men are former Lt. Ernie Burzell, who's also running for Hamblen County sheriff, and former Sgt. David Kitts, who's running for sheriff in Jefferson County.
"I cannot sit back and ignore the Tennessee State Attorney General's opinion and ignore the advice of my legal counsel," Sheriff Jarnigan says.
The sheriff points to a state Attorney General's opinion issued last week.
It states that an employee's run for elected office means a 'dismissal from employment is mandated by the plain language of the statute' which refers to the County Sheriff's Civil Service Law of 1974.
The document also says the federal Hatch Act comes into play. The act states that if a deputy's position or duties are financed by federal loans or grants, he or she is prohibited from being a candidate unless the election is nonpartisan.
While Sheriff Jarnigan says his move wasn't politically motivated, Roy Rucker isn't convinced. "This termination just puts more speed in my get up and go," Rucker says.
The public service laws are affecting several other sheriff's races as well.
Knox County Corrections Officer Steve Hart was fired earlier in March He's challenging Sheriff J.J. Jones in the upcoming election.
The same thing happened in Jefferson County to former Chief Deputy Bud McCoig.
Questions have also been raised about Tellico Plains Police Chief Bill Isbell as he runs for Monroe County sheriff. The local election co-coordinator says he's seen no reason to disqualify Isbell.
Chief Isbell explains that his department doesn't take federal funding, and its employees aren't protected by the state civil service law.