Only On 3: Why Watson left Sheriff's Office to keep House seat
BRADLEY COUNTY (WRCB)-- Why would Eric Watson give up a twelve-year career in law enforcement?
A command-level job with the Bradley County Sheriff's Office that paid $50,000 a year with a guaranteed pension?
To keep a $15,000 a year part-time gig that he could lose every two years?
"This is something I've been thinking about and praying about for about six months with my family," Watson tells Channel 3. "It was just time to come back home."
'Home', is the family's tire store in Cleveland.
"My father was severely hurt in a car accident almost a year ago," Watson says. "He's gotten no better to come back to work."
He's also celebrating his first year of marriage. He's become a father to wife Tenille's three young children.
But home also is the Tennessee House of Representatives.
Watson, a Republican, has filled the 22nd District seat (Polk, Meigs and part of Bradley County) since winning a special election shortly after the 'Tennessee Waltz' scandal in 2006.
"I make much more of a difference on Capitol Hill than I do as a deputy sheriff, for the people," Watson says. "I make the laws the law officers enforce."
Watson now chairs the House Judiciary Committee. Until his resignation, he commanded the Courts Services division at the Sheriff's Office, with the rank of Captain.
"There's always been political enemies of mine that have questioned me working at the Sheriff's Office and being a legislator."
Bradley County Sheriff Jim Ruth acknowledges as much in his press release announcing Watson's resignation.
"Captain Watson appeared the appropriate choice to command the Courts Division due to his being a lieutenant and second-in-command when (Sheriff Ruth) was elected," the release states.
"But past administrations have had difficulty arranging his work schedule. We stressed the need to avoid even the appearance of improper conduct or double-dipping. With some difficulty, we did reconcile his time while in the legislature last session. We determined subsequently there were some issues that in the future would be irreconcilable."
Contacted Thursday, Sheriff Ruth, through spokesperson Bob Gault, tells Eyewitness News that the release speaks for itself.
Watson maintains he's never been disciplined in his tenure, working for Ruth and for his two predecessors.
"I've always kept it very above-board," he says.
But his personnel file shows a complaint was filed in October 2005, from then Lt. Ruth, when Watson first ran for state representative. Watson did a media interview, in uniform, on Sheriff's Office time.
On April 16, 2006, Ruth sent Watson a memorandum regarding time sheets and work performance. It indicates Ruth had expected Watson to work his legislative duties around a full 43-hour week with the Sheriff's Office, but later learned Watson would put in only 32 hours.
"It is anticipated that some time in the future someone will make complaints or accusations about your work hours," Ruth wrote. "Truthfully, if the Captain, someone from the front office, or maybe the county commission were to question your hours and ask for stats showing continued good performance, I would be hard pressed to provide them."
"There's always been a question but I've always been accountable for it," Watson says.
Watson isn't sure how long he'll be needed in the family business, but he indicates he has several job prospects and wouldn't rule out a career in law enforcement.
Could that include challenging Ruth for Sheriff in 2013?
"I do not know what the future holds," says Watson.