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Sheriff still not back to work

Even though he has made intermittent appearances at his office and in the community throughout the month of June, Unicoi County Sheriff Kent Harris said Friday that, although he is still the sheriff, his doctors have not cleared him to return to work.
“It’s sort of a unique situation,” Harris commented, after being asked to clarify his working status. “I’m still under doctors’ care 100 percent of the time.”
Harris said he is unable to drive due to bad vision in his left eye, as well as inner-ear problems that are causing him to experience imbalance issues. In addition, Harris said he is still taking seizure medication and is also battling a disk in his back, which is bulging into his spinal cord.
Harris said he still has to use a cane to walk because his doctors consider him a fall risk, but he added that his latest MRI indicated the swelling in his brain had diminished considerably.
These problems all stem from an August 2010 incident in which Harris fell 16 feet from a ladder at the Unicoi County Jail. In early September, Harris began physical, occupational and speech therapy at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta.
Harris said he has completed those programs and is back at home, where he is under the care of Ira Ellis, his patient care provider, “24 hours a day.”
Despite having graduated his therapy programs at the Shepherd Center, Harris will be required to travel back to Atlanta one day a week throughout the month of July to visit his doctor there. Harris said the doctor will re-evaluate his condition and determine if further visits are needed.
Harris said that in addition to his trips to Atlanta, he will also be traveling to Asheville, N.C. two days a week beginning Wednesday, July 6, for more speech, physical and occupational therapy sessions, as per his doctor’s suggestion.
Harris has also hired an attorney, Bruce Shine of Kingsport, who advised him to “keep doing what I’m doing.”
“If any county commissioners have questions about my status, they can call him,” Harris said. “I’m just going to go by what he says.”
In the sheriff’s absence, Chief Deputy Ronnie Adkins, an investigator with the UCSD, has assumed leadership over the department.
“We keep (Kent) updated and involved in what’s going on,” Adkins pointed out. Harris was quick to commend Adkins for stepping up.
“He’s done an outstanding job,” Harris said, complimenting Adkins for preparing the early stages of the sheriff’s department’s 2011-2012 fiscal year budget for review by the Unicoi County Commission’s finance committee.
“He cut some items in the regular budget that I probably wouldn’t have been able to find,” Harris said. “One of the things he did was to cut the ammunition (costs) down.”
Harris has also been working to address other concerns not already reflected in his department’s budget, and detailed those items in a letter to county commissioners last week. The requests in that letter totaled approximately $1 million on top of the UCSD’s regular budget.