Citing health, County Commissioner Gary Keith resigns

Gary Keith

Longtime District 17 Wilson County Commissioner Gary Keith resigned late Monday.

Keith gave no reason in his resignation letter, but in an interview with the Democrat, he said he is dealing with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and heart trouble.

"I went 13 years and only missed one meeting," Keith said. "The last three months, I couldn't even get to one. My health just fell down the past several months."

Fellow Commissioner Kenny Reich, who represents District 6 and is one of Keith's closest friends on the commission, said, "He reached the point where he was not doing his constituents well. He believes that to represent his district he needed to be able to go to meetings. I respect his decision."

Keith's resignation was announced in an email to commissioners Tuesday from the office of Mayor Randall Hutto.

Keith, who is 72, said he is proud of the support he has given the schools and the jail over the years, as well as to the sheriff's office and emergency management agency as growth began to accelerate in recent years.

"I think we've handled it very well," Keith said of the challenges that growth has brought. "But I can see where it's going to be more difficult going forward."

Keith is a native of Bowling Green, Kentucky, but his wife is a Tennessean. He said he came to Lebanon when he applied to the police departments here, in Murfreesboro and Bowling Green and Lebanon is where he was hired. He went on to several positions in and out of the public sector before spending the past 26 years with the sheriff's office.

In his resignation letter, Keith said, "Over the past several years, we have made great strides in infrastructure improvements, employee pay, jail expansion, and a possible Judicial Center on the horizon. I thank you for your trust and faith in me and I hope I have exceeded your expectations."

Reich said, "Gary always did a great job. He was well informed, he kept himself informed and he always knew the facts. He's going to be greatly missed."

The County Commission will appoint someone to fill Keith's seat until the Aug. 6, 2020 election.

Keith said he would like to see his son, James "Rusty" Keith, get the appointment. Rusty Keith, 49, is currently the school resource officer at Gladeville Elementary School, and has been with the sheriff's office for 15 years. He is a Navy veteran.

"I'll have to lobby for it and work hard," Rusty Keith said. "I feel like I'm the rightful person."

Reich said that while he doesn't know Rusty Keith, he expects he'll get the appointment.

"I've never seen us not uphold a commissioner's wishes," he said. "Especially if it's family."

Registered voters in District 17 can submit candidates for the position in person to the county commission or in writing to the mayor's office. Candidates must be a resident of the district. Candidates must be nominated by the commission and nominations do not require a second. The commission will elect the person from among the nominees by simple majority. The election is scheduled for the Oct. 21 commission meeting.

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