Potter makes second run at sheriff's office

By Thomas Wilson

STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   Six years after leaving the Carter County Sheriff's Department as the No. 2 officer, Kenneth Potter has launched an aggressive campaign to win the office he narrowly lost in 1996.
   "I know I can do the job and do it well," said Potter, 63, who grew up in the Hampton community. "I have no axes to grind, I'm just ready to do the job."
   Potter served as chief deputy of the sheriff's department for six years under former sheriff Paul Peters. He is currently chief of the Bluff City Police Department.
   Sitting Sheriff John Henson defeated Potter by just over 300 votes in a special run-off election held after the retirement of then-sheriff Paul Peters.
   A 30-year veteran of law enforcement, Potter said he became motivated to run when Carter County residents began speaking to him about running for the office two years ago.
   "Most often, they had been the victims of a crime," said Potter. "They were just not happy with the services they had gotten."
   The county's rural residents also indicated that they rarely saw patrol cars in their communities, he said.
   "I understand they get busy and they can't be everywhere at the same time but I believe we can have higher visibility, patrolling the back roads and being seen more often," he said.
   He stated that during his time with the department during the 1990s, the criminal investigations division saw a case clearance rate of 86 percent.
   Potter also said he would establish manned substations in the Roan Mountain, Elk Mills, and upper Stoney Creek communities to lower officer response time.
   "People have told me response time has been over 1-1/2 hours, and to me that is just not acceptable," he said. "I would favor using a fire department or other government building to set this up and get it in one of the remote parts of the county."
   If elected, Potter said that he would travel to all parts of the county meeting people in those communities, asking them, "What do we need to do to make this a better sheriff's department and make you feel better at home?
   "Anytime you can get the public involved in your law enforcement you are going to learn a great deal from those people," he said. "Any time you can bond with your community, you have done a great service."
   He felt the well-publicized flooding problems caused by inmates at the county jail could be prevented with proper supervision and a change in how the jail's utility system was checked.
   "I would not be in favor of building a new jail and putting that on the taxpayers," he said.
   Potter also felt housing too many state inmates created potential legal and safety risks for the county, which were not worth state reimbursement once the department factored in medical and food costs.
   "Jails are designed to hold local people for a short period of time," said Potter. "I will work to keep hardened criminals out of this facility and in Nashville where they belong for security reasons and other reasons."
   Potter also said he would like to start a civil and criminal warrant division to expedite the service of civil papers with efficiency for the department and the public.
   A Peace Officers Standards Training (POST) instructor, Potter also said he would implement POST in-service training on-site at the department. The move would decrease the need for deputies to travel out of the county for training and certification, he said.
   "You just cannot get enough training," he said. "We go through a 40-hour certification training program each year. All the officers at the Bluff City department do the POST training on-site."
   Potter stated that he would reorganize the sheriff's department if elected. Specifically, Potter said the criminal investigations division would undergo changes -- possibly by adding more investigators.
   "I hope everyone will stay and work with me," he said. "If they'll give me 100 percent, I'll give them 110 percent."