|By Billy Davis
Twelve hours after winning the sheriff’s race with a razor-thin victory, Hugh "Shot" Bright raised his right hand Wednesday morning at 10:05 and took the oath of office.
"I thank all y’all for your support, and I’ll be there if you need me," Bright told more than 100 supporters in the county courtroom in Batesville.
During a break in a chancery court session, Judge Melvin McClure administered the oath of office to Bright in a five-minute ceremony.
Bright was sworn in immediately to complete the remaining two years in the term of the late Sheriff David Bryan, completing a race crowded with 11 candidates.
In a run-off election that was expected to be close, Bright defeated opponent Craig Sheley by 385 votes of 8,140 ballots cast.
The unofficial vote tally was 4,229 votes for Bright, the jail administrator, and 3,844 for Sheley, the chief deputy.
Sheley could not be reached by press time for comment regarding the outcome of the election.
Asked about his immediate plans for the department, Bright told The Panolian that he planned to address Wednesday two issues of the campaign: complaints of poor work by sheriff’s deputies and poor coverage in the county.
"We’re going to get these deputies out in the county and rolling, and taking care of business in a proper way," Bright said. "There will be more vehicles in the neighborhoods."
Bright said the department would also divide the county into four patrol areas Wednesday, utilizing an idea that surfaced among candidates during the race.
"It may work and it may not work, and if it don’t it won’t," Bright said. "But we’re going to at least try that."
Bright said deputy sheriff Otis Griffin would serve as chief deputy.
The new sheriff said department employees who were candidates in the sheriff’s race, namely Mark Whitten and Jamie Tedford, would remain with the department if they wished.
Tedford was picked by the late sheriff to serve on the county drug task force through his job with the Batesville Police Department. He works with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in Oxford.
Whitten is an investigator with the sheriff’s department.
Bright said he also intends to retain investigator Barry Thompson, whose father Gary ran for sheriff.
Also following the ceremony, sheriff’s employee Robbie Willis handed Bright the keys to a white Suburban, the department vehicle he parked in August when interim Sheriff Ida Bryan put him on administrative leave amidst a state investigation of the jail.
After remaining neutral in the race, the interim sheriff publicly backed Sheley in the final weeks, saying he was her late husband’s pick for sheriff.
Bright agreed Wednesday that the suspension helped portray him as the victim of politics, which in turn swayed voters to back him in the race.
"I just think that the administrative leave was against me in the political race," Bright said. "I just don’t like dirty politics and a lot of people don’t like it either."
Last week, during an election eve interview, Bright said he expected the investigation would die away due to its political motivations.
Bright remained on administrative leave from August until the Wednesday ceremony, where he switched from a suspended sheriff’s department employee to the leader of the department with the oath of office.
With the keys in hand, Bright jumped in his Suburban after the courtroom ceremony and headed north to the department to start to work.