CLEVELAND, TN (WDEF-TV) - A bitter contest between the two candidates for Bradley county Sheriff turned into a debate this afternoon.
Sheriff Jim Ruth and challenger Eric Watson slugged-it-out at the weekly Kiwanis club luncheon.
The debate focused on who's best qualified for the job.
Eric Watson is a former captain in the Bradley county Sheriff's department who left under a cloud after Jim Ruth won the job in 2010.
Watson is also the sitting state representative for that district, who is not running for re-election.
The Kiwanis club brought the two together at noon.
SHERIFF JIM RUTH "Do you feel Mr. Watson is qualified to be sheriff? No, I do not. Somebody that's deceitful..will not tell the truth,..tries to deceive the public...deceive them about his qualifications and all that."
Ruth filed a complaint with the state ethics commission against Watson last month.
On Wednesday it was rejected by a commissioner who called it a "cheap shot".
ERIC WATSON , CHALLENGER "I ain't the one who started this contest about the ethics commission. I haven't filed bogus and frivolous complaints that's already been proved by 2 different agencies to be lies."
Ruth accused Watson of fudging on his credentials over his 20 year law enforcement career.
Watson focused on Ruth's 41 years.
SHERIFF JIM RUTH "I've been up and down the ladder ..All the way from patrol to chief deputy and back down and now back up to sheriff."
Watson accused Ruth of having too many supervisors in his 200 person department.
ERIC WATSON "You can't have a supervisor for 2 and a half employees. That's way top-heavy...no department in the state that I know of does that."
SHERIFF JIM RUTH "They're the most educated, most qualified and the best people we've come up with..yeah, its took 3 years to get where we're at now."
JEFF WAGNER,CLEVELAND "I want our community to stay safe..good luck to both men. You didn't pick a favorite? I'm Eric Watson all the way."
CLAYTON CUNNINGHAM,CLEVELAND "I Think Eric Watson is a politician, and Jim Ruth is a good man."
The candidates will likely continue the battle mostly in the printed ads and local speeches.
The two will meet in the GOP primary on May 6th.