By Richard Rourk
Ahead of early voting in Unicoi County, candidates took an opportunity to talk to citizens of Unicoi County at an open forum sponsored by the Unicoi County Republican Party.
The Unicoi County Republican Party hosted the event for candidates on the ballot for the upcoming primary. Jim Buchanan moderated the event that drew several candidates and a full house of citizens to Erwin Town Hall on Monday, April 4, for a discussion about the future of Unicoi County.
“We appreciate everyone coming out tonight,” Buchanan said when opening the forum.
Several candidates who are running unopposed during the May 3 primaries spoke to the crowd, including Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely and Criminal Court Judge Lisa Nidiffer Rice, but it was the contested races that garnered attention from the crowd.
During the forum, two of the three candidates vying for Unicoi County Sheriff shared their vision for law enforcement in Unicoi County.
“I first started law enforcement in 1978,” said Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley said. “If elected, this will be my last term. To be sheriff you have to have the people’s confidence and respect. I have solved many crimes because of the confidence and respect of the people.”
Hensley is running against Mike Adams and Robert Bryan McCurry.
“I have noticed a deficit in law enforcement service in Unicoi County for the past several years,” Adams said during the forum. “We currently have deputies leaving the county. I truly believe that Unicoi County is ready for the next generation of law enforcement leadership.”
Two candidates are looking to fill the seat that will be left vacant when current Unicoi County General Sessions Judge David Shults retires this year following 32 years of service on the bench.
“I’ve spent the last 15 years in Unicoi County to ensure that justice was done,” said Mitch Manuel, one of the candidates seeking the judicial office. “If blessed to serve on the bench, I will use that position to ensure that the laws are applied in a fair, impartial and unbiased manner.”
Manuel’s opponent is Joseph David Shults.
“I know this community,” Shults told the audience at the forum. “This county made me who I am. I know the law enforcement here. I know the people here. I know the attorneys here. I know the values here.”
Another contested race is Circuit Court Judge 2.
“I certainly consider it an honor and a privilege to be considered by my friends and neighbors,” Lois Shults Davis told the crowd. “I have experienced a wide variety of law over the years and I bring that experience with me.”
Also running for Circuit Court Judge 2 during the May 3 primary is Suzanne Cook.
“When I was growing up there were no lawyers in my family,” Cook said. “I’ve been a partner at a private practice for many years. I’ve covered a lot of cases that were civil law.”
Unicoi County Commission District 1 candidate Page Sifford was the only candidate seeking a seat on the county commission to attend the forum.
Sifford shared what drives her to make a difference for her community.
“When we moved here this county took us in,” Sifford said. “I grew to love this county. I embraced its culture and when I saw change come in that I thought disgraced the values that this community stands for it broke my heart. I am running to maintain what your ancestors fought so hard for.”
Sifford is running for one of three seats available on the Unicoi County Commission District 1. She faces incumbents Loren Thomas and Jamie Harris, as well as candidates James “Doc” Bailey and Tim Lingerfelt.
Patty Treadway, a candidate for Unicoi County Clerk, spoke to the crowd about why she feels the need to serve.
“I believe we live in the most beautiful county in the state and it would be an honor to serve our county as County Clerk,” Treadway said during the forum.
Treadway, who said that she hopes to expand the County Clerk’s drive-thru hours, is running against incumbent County Clerk Mitzi Bowen.
The Unicoi County Constable District 3 race was represented at the forum by candidate Jay Elliott, who will face Timmy Lewis for the opportunity to represent District 3.
“I’ve been in public service my entire adult life and I will serve the people,” Elliott said.
Early voting runs April 13 to April 28, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m until noon inside the Unicoi County Election Commission office, which is located at 106 Nolichucky Ave., Erwin.
Election Day is Tuesday, May 3.