2017
01.15

Much like various eateries that have called the 111 building home, 2016 has passed us by.

Here are the most significant news stories discussed on LU during the last twelve months: 

 
KENSINGTON TRAILER TRAGEDY

The year’s furthest-reaching local story is also it’s saddest: the tragic deaths of two babies in a fire out in Kensington.

Nataliegh and Jocelyn Long died on September 13th when their Carabou Lane trailer caught fire. Despite the best efforts of family and firemen, even to the point of injury, the girls could not be saved.

That was sadly not the only fire death in the area: A family of six was killed in a Trion trailer fire about a month later. During 2016 at least eleven died in fires across Chattooga and Walker; more than half were children. 

 
2016 ELECTIONS 

2016 wasn’t just an election year, but an election year that many will remember for the rest of their lives.

Of course the presidential election was on everyone’s mind, but in Walker County two local matters dominated the conversation and news coverage: county commissioner, and the sole commissioner form of government itself.

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2016
12.31

Today is Bebe Ann Heiskell’s final day as Walker County sole commissioner.

She took office on January 1, 2001 and leaves on December 31, 2016. Sixteen years, or exactly 5,844 days, in power.

During her four terms, Bebe Heiskell raised taxes at least five times, bought and then sold a county ambulance service, watched Hutcheson crumble to dust, created government jobs for relatives and friends, hired a convicted drug dealer to serve as county attorney, abused the county’s tax exempt status, wrecked her county owned vehicles at least a half-dozen times, spent over $8 million buying farmland, gave county buildings and a thirty-year tax to the Development Authority for a $10-million loan, ruined the county’s credit rating, bought a trolley, attempted to kill Waker Transit, spent untold hundreds of thousands on pet projects for a single politically-supportive family, watched the county’s roads and bridges go to hell, was compared to TV’s Boss Hogg by the Wall Street Journal, and was seen on several occasions drunk in public.

Among many other things.

All with minimal accountability as sole commissioner – a system of government that went out with powdered wigs and buggy whips, used today by only nine counties in the nation yet still supported by many in the State of Georgia.

Heiskell was hailed as Walker County’s savior when she first took office, won reelection handily in 2004 and 2008, squeaked out another win by only 214 votes in 2012, and finally lost this year’s reelection bid in a landslide to Shannon Whitfield – who supported her himself until 2015.

On December 27, LU asked Facebook readers to reveal what they would say to Heiskell if she was sitting in front of them.

Those comments were a mixture of resentment and relief, many of them brutal:

Many simply said “Bye, Felicia” – a phrase snagged from a 1995 movie that has become a popular meme, essentially a dismissive term for an unimportant woman best forgotten.

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2016
12.29

Shannon Whitfield took the oath of office for County Commissioner yesterday, Wednesday, at 2 PM – but he won’t officially occupy the office until Sunday.

Yall got what you asked for (you think), but can the man govern?

Whitfield has started saying things that sound good, but will he come through with these promises?

He still refuses to say who will be on his handful of shadow government “advisory” committees – and hasn’t yet kept his vow to become transparent after winning the election.

He’s also promised that he’ll keep doing business with his family company after taking office, and his campaign manager Bobby Teems refuses to promise that he won’t also accept lucrative county contracts when his man comes into power:

For those who are excited over Whitfield’s rise and expect things to improve ethically, here’s a reminder that your new commissioner was giving the old commissioner campaign funds in return for the county’s no-bid fuel business, a situation that has existed “for generations.”

Generations of corruption and favoritism, which will continue to worsen after Whitfield takes office on Sunday.   Tiny Facebook  Tiny Facebook  Tiny Facebook  Tiny Facebook

Bebe Heiskell’s political supporters gathered last Friday to wish her well in retirement.

None of these people, who kept Heiskell in power and share responsibility for her actions, should remain in politics. But you voted for many of them this year and likely will keep voting them back into office for years to come because they’re such supposedly good people.

Jeff Mullis, Steve Wilson, Jason Winters of Chattooga, Teddy Freaking Harris of Rossville…

Why do you expect to get better results than you’ve had when you keep voting for the same crap?

As for Heiskell… Walker taxpayers have little love for her as she leaves office.   Tiny Facebook  Tiny Facebook

We hope you had a great Christmas.

Over the Holiday weekend Twins Pizza once again offered free meals to the community, the fifth straight year owner Key Koukos has done this in honor of his late son and stepson.

Earlier in the month Empty Stocking Fund (not to be confused with Stocking Full of Love) provided Christmas meals to about 2,600 families.

Empty Stocking has existed for over forty years, funded by local businesses, churches, individuals, and the United Way – with much help from Shop-Rite.

Here’s to a Happy New Year that defies expectations.   Tiny Facebook  Tiny Facebook  Tiny Facebook  Tiny Facebook

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2016
12.23

Merry Christmas from the Underground.
LU will be on break until the middle of next week. Until then, have a wonderful Holiday.

Right before Thanksgiving, Walker County Development Authority proposed leasing the multi-million-dollar Mountain Cove Farms property to a woman from Tennessee for $2,000 a month.

The Authority decided to hold off at the time, delaying a decision for a future meeting. That meeting was held yesterday in the Civic Center – at the convenient time of 9 AM.

The Development Authority didn’t immediately reject wedding planner Lea Kapherr’s unsolicited offer to rent the farm for $24,000 a year, but didn’t accept it either. Instead, the Authority decided, in a rare smart decision, to follow the ethically best path of taking bids on the land until February so the best possible deal can be found.

During the meeting it was said Rock City may also be interested in the farm, but no dollar figures were attached to their rumored bid.

Ms. Kapherr’s proposal involves a newly formed company, an LLC, which means the financials and owners and even officers are shielded by law. There’s no way to find out who else is involved unless the bidder willingly reveals it. The Development Authority SHOULD make that a requirement, not just for this person but for any entity seeking to do a business deal with the county.

All else aside, Kapherr’s offer forced the Authority to open this up for public bids.

Maybe that was all they intended in the first place. A bid so low that it forced the county to actually do this in the open, legally, instead of taking some slightly higher lowball offer from a friend of Bebe or some campaign contributor of Shannon Whitfield’s.

Since the farm now legally belongs to the Walker County Development Authority, any money that comes in from leasing it to a private business would go back to that entity, not the county itself. WCDA buys land and gives out tax credits to companies like Audia. Regardless of who ends up renting the land, it do much for the county budget other than remove some strain of keeping the place going.   Tiny Facebook  Tiny Facebook  Tiny Facebook

LU EXCLUSIVE: Bebe Heiskell has issued a memo to departing Fire Chief Randy Camp, thanking him for his years of service to the county.

In the same letter she confirms plans to consolidate the fire department with other emergency services, 911, CERT, etc. under the leadership of loyal supporter David Ashburn.

Ashburn was interim sheriff in the early 90’s for a few months. He’s run 911 since we’ve had 911, was manager of Mountain Cove Farms for a time, is still chief of the county’s redundant “codes enforcement” police department…

He was on the Hutcheson board when terrible decisions were made there, and still sits on the Water Authority board. In many ways he’s Bebe’s man, in whatever place she puts him – and he’ll keep dancing to her music even after she leaves office.

(Ashburn is also the one who said after the 2011 tornadoes that it was regrettable nobody in Walker was killed so we could get more attention/assistance.)

Shannon Whitfield can reverse this last-minute decision and name his own fire chief after being sworn in next week, but isn’t expected to do so.   Tiny Facebook

Former leaders of now-defunct Hutcheson Hospital may have to pay for their actions afterall.

Federal Department of Labor investigators are seeking information about employee health insurance plans that weren’t paid and retirement funds that may have been misused.

They’re focusing on ex-Hutcheson CEO Farrell Hayes, ex-COO Kevin Hopkins, and onetime hospital lawyer Don Oliver.

All three would look great in prison. (Or BACK in prison; Don Oliver spent several years behind bars in the late 80’s after being convicted of drug smuggling.)

Remember back when LU was the only place suggesting there was bad behavior among the leadership at Hutcheson, and everybody got mad because we’re awful and shouldn’t say stuff like that?

There’s nothing new under the sun..   Tiny Facebook

Commissioner-elect Whitfield is seeking to fill several county jobs(?) ahead of taking office.

Whitfield will need positions filled quick after becoming commissioner, but it MAY violate open records laws to ask for government job applications with a private e-mail address, and putting these on Facebook absolutely does NOT count as a legal posting of an open job.

(Will the Walker County Republicans who just raked a presidential candidate over the coals for using a private e-mail for official business defend this? Probably so.)

Also are “Landfill” and “Codes Enforcement” specific jobs, or just departments? Is he looking for leaders or workers? Are there job descriptions for these positions?

Whitfield’s omission of “fire chief” on this job list strengthens fears that he’ll leave David Ashburn in charge of the fire department.   Tiny Facebook

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2016
12.17

As LU first reported over Thanksgiving, Walker County fire chief Randy Camp is quitting at the end of the month to take a job in Catoosa County.

Shannon Whitfield will be responsible for naming Randy Camp’s replacement, but so far says he doesn’t know who will take the position.

Will Whitfield give the job to a campaign supporter, promote a department insider from the Heiskell administration, or truly “drain the swamp” and appoint an outsider based on nothing but their qualifications?   Tiny Facebook

A bizarre case of vehicle theft went down in Rock Spring on December 6th.

A man pulled up to Rock Springs tire in an old Chevy truck and asked workers for the keys to a newer Dodge. They thought he was there to get the vehicle for its owner, he took the keys and drove away.

I've got a story to tell and not for just laughs and likes,but to warn people about just how dangerous and crazy people…

Posted by Rock Springs Tire on Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Ten miles later LPD pulled him over in downtown LaFayette and put him in jail for stealing the Dodge.   Tiny Facebook

Walker County isn’t the only government entity looking for a new fire department leader: LaFayette’s fire chief won’t be coming back to work.

Chief Robert Busby was suspended by the city for an unspecified “personnel issue” at the beginning of November. Now WQCH reports that he’s resigned from the job.

His post is being temporarily held by Police Chief Clift while the city changes the fire chief’s job description and then tries to find a new chief.

Hopefully they’re not trying to re-combine the fire and police chief jobs into one position. We tried that before and it was a complete disaster.

(It’s more likely that the position is being adjusted to fit a specific candidate they had in mind for the job before Busby left.)

LaFayette’s city electric director, Mike Stewart, has also quit his position. That leadership role is being held for now by gas department director Jim Spier.

The city’s utilities and public works department was last restructured in 2014 and at the time they said Spier was supposed to be in charge of it all, then turned out he wasn’t, and now he is again.

LaFayette’s organizational chart is starting to resemble the county’s…   Tiny Facebook

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