Bullets have begun flying in the upcoming St. Tammany Parish sheriff’s race.

The race pits four-term incumbent Jack Strain against his former deputy and current Slidell Police Chief Randy Smith and former naval officer Jennifer Werther.

This week, Strain and Smith came out swinging over an interview two former Strain deputies gave to the media Wednesday in which they alleged they had been bullied by a high-ranking Strain aide, who accused them of not being politically loyal to the sheriff.

One former deputy now works for Smith as an unpaid reserve officer; the other said his employment with the Slidell Police Department was “in process.”

In an interview, Strain was asked if he thought Smith had orchestrated the deputies’ claims.

“Randy isn’t smart enough to engineer this,” Strain said.

He put the blame on two Slidell activists who, he said, were looking to prolong their “15 minutes of fame.” Though the charges may not have come from the Smith camp, they reeked of election-year politics, he said.

On Thursday morning, Smith fired back, sending out a news release saying Strain makes “poor choices” and calling him “paranoid.”

“When it comes to people being ‘smart,’ the sheriff is mistaken if he thinks the people of St. Tammany Parish aren’t smart enough to see through his deflection,” Smith said. “Instead of taking responsibility for his own employees’ actions — or his own — he throws stones and makes the debate personal.”

There are more than five months remaining before voters go to the polls Oct. 24.

First candidate set for Jefferson council seat

The race to succeed Cynthia Lee-Sheng as the Jefferson Parish Council’s representative for Metairie-based District 5 has its first official candidate.

Lawyer Mike Thomas — a Republican who served on the council as an interim appointee from April 2011 to January 2012 — announced this week that he will run for the post in the Oct. 24 primary.

Pledging their support to Thomas, 41, during his announcement rally at Barreca’s restaurant on Metairie Road were Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand and Assessor Tom Capella.

Thomas worked as an aide to Capella when Capella was an at-large parish councilman from 2004 to 2011. When Capella was elected assessor, the council appointed Thomas to finish out his unfinished term.

Capella told those at the rally that Thomas helped run his office when various disasters — among them hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Gustav, as well as the 2010 oil spill — affected the parish.

“He’s done it,” Capella said about Thomas’ having navigated major parish crises. “He’s prepared.”

Normand said it’s crucial for District 5 to “have a deliberate leader” like Thomas.

“We do not have time to deal with people who are going to vacillate,” said Normand, whose political mentor was Lee-Sheng’s late father, former Jefferson Sheriff Harry Lee. “That’s why I’m supporting Mike Thomas.”

A former assistant parish attorney and assistant district attorney, Thomas said his time both on the council and as Capella’s aide taught him that tackling basic issues such as sewerage and drainage is as important as being at the forefront during emergencies like storms.

“I’m going to be a councilman you can depend on,” said Thomas, whose campaign is being managed by veteran political consultant William Allerton. “When you need something, I’ll be there. ... I know what it takes, and I’m prepared to deliver.”

Lee-Sheng is running for an at-large seat on the council. Term limits prevented her from seeking re-election in District 5, where she’s served since 2009.

Councilman blasts retirement system head

Covington Councilman Mark Wright wasted no time Thursday in reacting to reports that the director of a major state public retirement system had used public money for hotels, dining and alcohol.

Municipal Employees Retirement System Executive Director Bob Rust should resign immediately, Wright said in a statement.

Covington’s employees are among the many municipal employees around the state who pay into the retirement system, know as MERS.

A report by WVUE-TV on Wednesday detailed thousands of dollars Rust spent on meals, hotel stays and alcohol over the last several years. The report also noted that Rust earns an annual salary of more than $200,000.

“That Mr. Rust makes nearly a quarter-million dollars a year in salary and still spends public money so extravagantly is obscene,” Wright said.

He also called for the board that oversees MERS to explain itself.

“Who is minding Mr. Rust’s spending?” Wright asked.

According to WVUE’s report, the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office is looking into the retirement system.

Compiled by Faimon A. Roberts III and Ramon Antonio Vargas