2015
07.30

Walker EMS Service Ambulance

Walker County’s ambulance service, one of the few areas of county government that might be considered a success under Commissioner Heiskell’s leadership, will soon be no more: Today Fire Chief Randy Camp told his employees the ambulance unit is being sold BACK to Hutcheson.

    “Commissioner Heiskell has informed me she is in negotiations with Hutcheson Medical Center for the purchase of Walker County Emergency Services ambulance service. While nothing has been finalized, the Board of Directors [of Hutcheson] did meet yesterday and voted unanimously to move forward with negotiations.”
    “Because I have not been involved in (or even aware of) meetings discussing this, I have very little information about the transition. Commissioner Heiskell did advise that Hutcheson has pledged to absorb all current EMS employees into the new service. Any information, however, regarding pay, benefits, assignments, or take-over timeframe is not available to me at this time.”
    “Like I am sure you are, I was caught completely off-guard by this decision. I can only imagine how upsetting this is to those of you who came to us from the old Hutcheson system. I pledge to work hard to make this transition as seamless as possible when the time comes but I know that doesn’t mean it will be easy for any of us.”
    “I know you are all hard workers who care about the citizens you serve. To that end, I fully expect this news will not impact the patient care or the customer service you provide to the people that we serve.
    “I would also ask for both your patience and your assistance during this time. This change will most likely create some issues with staffing through the transition period. I ask that you work with us as much as possible so that we can continue to provide the high caliber of care our citizens have come to expect.”
    “As this is an evolving process, I will do my best to keep you informed each step of the way. As information is made available to me, I will pass it along.”
    “Please know, from the bottom of my heart, I have enjoyed working with each and every one of you.”

Original Memo

Camp in this memo sounds not only surprised, but outright angry over the deal – because of its secrecy and the outright stupidity of selling a working public service BACK to the bankrupt, corrupt hospital it was purchased from in the first place.

The deal isn’t done yet, or wasn’t when this memo was sent out earlier today, but Camp knows what we all know: If Bebe wants this done, it’ll be done, because she’s a one-woman show and half the people in charge of Hutcheson are her people.

Walker County Fire & Rescue LogoLU has been contacted by multiple county insiders questioning the logic behind this deal: Why sell the service BACK to Hutcheson, which nearly shut down ambulance service in the first place, when Hutcheson now is so broke it can’t even pay its current employees’ health insurance? HMC doesn’t have two sticks to rub together, so how do they plan to a) buy the ambulance service and b) cover its ongoing costs?

Walker County rescued the ambulance program and many of its employees from Hutcheson in the first place, then spent hundreds of thousands to upgrade and improve it. Now for what?

And why is Commissioner Heiskell engaging in sale talks with Hutcheson without first bidding out the sale (or requesting bids for replacement service) in public as the law surely requires?

More as this develops…

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2015
07.29

Yesterday’s funeral for murdered sailor Randall Scott Smith in Fort Oglethorpe (and his subsequent burial in Chattanooga) was the fifth and final service for victims from the 7-16 terrorist attack.

Terrorism Victim PO2 Randall Smith

Smith’s funeral was held at First Baptist Fort O, followed by a procession stretching from LaFayette Rd. down Battlefield Parkway, then up I-75 and around Chattanooga to the National Cemetery. (Despite expectations/hopes of some local leaders, the funeral procession did not go through Walker County.)

The glass is cleaned up, the victims laid to rest – now the chore is to heal, and somehow make sense of a senseless tragedy.   Tiny Facebook  Tiny Facebook

Southeastern Grocers, parent of Bi-Lo and Winn-Dixie, announces sale of 29 Bi-Lo stores in NWGA and East Tennessee to Food City. Includes stores in LaFayette, Rossville, Trenton, Dalton, and Fort O. (In short, Food City is buying what remains of what USED to be Red Food before Bi-Lo bought them out 22 years ago.)

Bi-Lo Inside

Food City owner K-VA-T Food Stores says it won’t close any existing Bi-Los, and will spend $40-$50 million to remodel and rebrand the stores, as soon as August. Some may get gas stations added as part of renovation. (Bi-Lo Fuel Perks points will be rolled over into an existing Food City gas discount plan.)

Nine years ago Food City bought a handful of struggling Bi-Lo and Winn-Dixie stores in Knoxville. LU checked on the current condition of those stores: with the exception of one or two, all are still open and have been upgraded. That’s a good sign.

Regional Bi-Lo predecessor Red Food was owned by the French, then sold out to Bi-Lo which was then owned by a Dutch conglomerate. The company changed owners multiple times and had several failed merger attempts with companies like Golden Gallon and Food Lion. Multiple bankruptcies resulted in closed stores. Bi-Lo once owned Cub Foods, and ended up under the same corporate parent as struggling Winn-Dixie. Bi-Lo has been nothing but instability since day one, and they never seemed to figure out how to work in this market.

Food City Logo

The new company, K-VA-T Food City, is based in Virginia and seems to know how to exist and survive in a midsize community like ours. The COO of Food City was once an executive at Red Food, and some of the store-exclusive brands now sold at Food City like Kay’s Ice Cream were once available at Red Food, before Bi-Lo came in.

Considering the local ownership and people involved, Food City might be more like Red Food Stores than Bi-Lo has been. This looks like a good direction for the company – the initial impression of this deal is positive.

The only thing not clear so far is what happens to the 29 Bi-Lo stores’ 2,000 employees. Official statements from the company were contradictory; two reports claimed all current workers would have to re-apply to work for Food City with a “majority” rehired, while another said current employees’ seniority would be respected. One former insider suggested full-time employees will transition over to Food City while part timers will be asked to reapply.

Hopefully Food City will clarify those plans in the next few weeks as the buyout deal nears completion.   Tiny Facebook  Tiny Facebook

Chickamaugans were faced with economic reality last weekend as iconic Crystal Springs Printworks, in the heart of town, came under attack from bulldozers and backhoes.

Crystal Springs Demolition

112-year-old company reportedly employed over 1,200 people in the 70’s but had fewer than 100 when it closed in 2013; Owner Steve Tarvin, now a State Representative, said the cloth printer’s machinery was being scrapped, the building materials shipped off for reuse, and land cleared for a proposed housing development.

    “Now, the fabric mill’s massive, old brick-and-wood buildings will be taken down — and upscale homes may be built on the land, which borders a spring-fed lake.
    “‘There’s some possibility of a gated community there,’ Crystal Springs President and CEO Steve Tarvin said. ‘It will be something very nice on the lake.'”

An exclusive, wealthy gated community with generic stacked-stone mcmansions would be more valuable to Chickamauga (and Tarvin) than the struggling textile mill it will replace, but will certainly lack much of the old factory’s character.   Tiny Facebook

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2015
07.25

Just how much HAS Mountain Cove Farms cost us over the last seven years?

Money Pit Farms

If you back out Bebe’s accounting tricks and money transfers, the county has blown over $1.8 million on the pet project – nearly $900k of that last year alone.

That doesn’t include the cost of buying it, only what Walker County taxpayers have footed to keep the money pit open since the sale was announced. Total cost including the sale? $4.3 million, and climbing every day.

(LU has been telling you this for five years.. Bebe says the property is profitable, but only when she moves money from the county’s general account -meant for road paving, the Sheriff’s office, recreation centers, etc.- to the Special Projects fund MCF runs out of.)

    “Maybe the first seven years are just a speed bump — a $4.3 million speed bump, counting the cost of the property and money spent so far.”

Maybe if we keep Bebe in office another sixteen years she can get us over that speed hump, which she built.

James Alfred Jones at Mountain Cove Farms

What’s the plan to turn the farm around? Spend millions more to build a hotel on the property, which was purchased for “conservation.”

Bebe is also throwing more money into events like Civil War reenactments and a county fair – none of which make money if the county correctly accounts for county employees paid to participate in them.

    Chattanooga Times Free Press, 07/15/15: “Heiskell seems to have lost sight of the fact that she was hired to manage county business, not start new ones, and especially not new restaurants.
    “Fortunately, I hope she will be retiring in about 18 months. I doubt our little county could survive any more of her benevolent guidance and great ideas.” -Chris Durden, LaFayette

The people have had enough. Enough of Bebe, and enough of being under a sole commissioner.

But she’s not going anywhere unless somebody decides to actually run against her.   Tiny Facebook  Tiny Facebook

Terrorism Victim PO2 Randall Smith

The terrorist attack at a Chattanooga military reserve center last Thursday claimed the lives of four Marines and one Navy sailor. That sailor, Petty Officer 2nd Class Randall Smith, was an Ohio native living in Catoosa County. The logistics expert leaves behind a wife and three little girls.

Smith’s home has a Rossville mailing address, which is why Gov. Deal said he was a resident of Walker County when his death was announced over the weekend.

Nathan Deal Tweet / Randall Smith Death

Smith’s funeral is set for Tuesday in Fort Oglethorpe. Flags (in Georgia anyway) are at half-staff through the week.

Another victim of the shooting, Marine Squire K. “Skip” Wells, was originally from Marietta.

Funds benefitting the families of all five who died, and several who were wounded, have been set up in Chattanooga and locally at the Bank of LaFayette.   Tiny Facebook  Tiny Facebook  Tiny Facebook  Tiny Facebook  Tiny Facebook  Tiny Facebook

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2015
07.21

During the last month, health inspection scores in LaFayette area eateries ranged from an awful 62 all the way to 99.

El Trio Customers / Facebook

That 62 was earned by El Trio. The Mexican restaurant was cited on July 1st for almost everything restaurants commonly screw up: no hot water, hot foods kept too cold, cold foods kept too hot, raw meat kept over open food, food out of date, and employees not trained in safe food handling.

El Trio redeemed itself (in part) on July 9th with a reinspection score of 95. The inspector observed a container of beans sitting directly on the floor and noted that the previous inspection score for some reason hadn’t been posted on the wall, as required by law.

(An earlier inspection at El Trio on June 16th [discussed in the last LU health scores post] was also disappointing, an 82 for improper handwashing and wrong temperatures for food. One good score out of three in less than a month AND management refusal to post the worst score on the wall for customers to see raises some red flags about this establishment. Eat at El Trio at your own risk.)

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2015
07.15

Walker County was hit by strong wind, lightning, and heavy rain Tuesday – damaging property and leaving many in the dark.

July 14 Storm / Tree Down on South Chattanooga St

North Georgia Electric had over 2,200 customers in Walker and another 2,300 customers in Chattooga without power around midnight. As this is written about four hours later, the company had restored service to all but roughly 1,500 homes in both communities with many projected to rejoin the grid by 7 AM.

LaFayette Utilities power was also knocked out for at least half the town for over an hour, due to downed trees like the one above on South Chattanooga St. between Roper and Bronco Rd.

July 14 Storm / West Armuchee Barn July 14 Storm / West Armuchee Barn July 14 Storm / West Armuchee Barn

Trees weren’t the only casualties; This barn on West Armuchee Rd. was also claimed by the strong winds.

Clearer perspective on damage will be possible after the sun comes up.   Tiny Facebook  Tiny Facebook  Tiny Facebook  Tiny Facebook  Tiny Facebook

While the lights were out, traffic on the north end of town was disrupted by a two-vehicle accident.

North Main St Wreck / July 14

This wreck on North Main in front of the State Patrol office involved a Jeep Liberty being driven by a young couple and a pickup operated by a middle-age man. Bystanders say all involved came out OK, if a bit shaken up.

It’s not clear if the wreck was related to weather or (as suggested) caused by a tire failure on one of the vehicles.   Tiny Facebook

Two weeks ago, Commissioner Bebe finalized purchasing the former Covenant Bank / Stearns Bank building in Rock Spring. Total purchase price is $700,000 plus another $130k to “remodel and furnish” the facility.

Covenant Bank Building Interior

Bebe and her backers say the purchase is a good deal for what the building is worth, but it’s hardly necessary – more space than we need, replacing a usable building, and taking yet another site off the list of taxable properties.

    WQCH Radio, 07/06/15: “COMMISSIONER BEBE HEISKELL SIGNED ‘ON THE DOTTED LINE’ THURSDAY [July 2] AND WALKER COUNTY COMMITTED TO A LEASE-PURCHASE OF THE FORMER STEANS BANK BUILDING AT ROCK SPRING.
    “THE SIGN WILL SOON BE CHANGED TO READ ‘WALKER COUNTY LOCAL GOVERNMENT SERVICES’ AND WILL HOUSE THE TAX ASSESSORS AND TAX COMMISSIONERS OFFICES.
    “THE COUNTY IS BORROWING FUNDS FROM STEARNS BANK IN THE DEAL, AND WILL MAKE PAYMENTS FOR THE NEXT 41 MONTHS. THE TOTAL IS 700-THOUSAND FOR THE BUILDING, WITH ANOTHER 130-THOUSAND BORROWED FOR INTERIOR REMODELING AND FURNISHINGS TO FIT OFFICE NEEDS.

A year ago Walker County was broke and raising taxes. Now the entities responsible for assessing and collecting those taxes will be getting brand new furniture and enjoying a shiny new office lit by chandeliers. Remember that when Heiskell raises your property tax again THIS year and blames the economy, 9/11, out-of-county shoppers, aliens, or whatever else she comes up with.

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