2008
07.10

To clarify, this site will be dealing with all matters of interest, not just things pertaining to LaFayette. Most of what you read here will be regarding the city of LaFayette or the pitiful excuse for a county that somehow manages to keep LaFayette contained inside its borders. The current cityoflafayettega.com domain may eventually be supplemented with something related to the county or perhaps another name that binds it less to a specific geographical area. Regardless of domain, occasional postings may wander off the local news path and touch on anything else regarded as interesting.

How fitting then that the first post be about the county rather than the city.

Next Tuesday the citizens of Walker County (or the geriatric dozen who care anyway) will wander to their local polling stations for a primary vote. The most heated of the matters up for vote in this primary is deciding who will be the next sole commissioner of glorious and historical Walker County Georgia. Well, technically to decide who will be theĀ Republican candidate for commissioner, but really the Republican candidate is all but guaranteed the job in November.

The two Republican candidates are Bebe Heiskell, county commissioner since 2001, and a gentleman named Andy Hames, of Hames Industrial Corp. Hames isn’t that well known within the county, Googling his name finds very little besides reports about the current election and a complaint from 3 years ago that says he misled someone about a house they bought. Most people who have met him describe him as being a nice guy if not somewhat country and backwoods. But even with his lack of renown and any perceived negative aspects of his personality, Mr. Hames has one huge advantage coming into the election:

He isn’t Bebe Heiskell.

In the nearly 8 years since Heiskell beat Buddy Chapman to become the county’s first female chief executive (and as her official bio duly notes, first female sole commissioner in the state and the county’s first Republican anything ever), the citizens have watched her spend millions upon millions of dollars for building museums that never open due to lack of staff, business perks for companies that didn’t stick around long enough to use them, and replacement or duplicate government facilities in a community that is neither the county’s seat or its geographic center. In that same time hundreds of businesses have failed or moved out of the county and government services for most local citizens have gotten markedly worse. In the last year alone Walker’s unemployment rate hasĀ risen by 342% while neighboring Whitfield (the next worse increase) rose by only 77%.

The county’s voters are beginning to notice the complete lack of anything coming out of the millions in property and SPLOST taxes paid over the last eight years of Bebe’s reign. And we will now go on record publicly to predict that Bebe Heiskell will lose the primary election next Tuesday.

Wait, wait.. What? Bebe lose? How is this? How can a woman with at least 30 years experience within the county’s government lost to a guy who never before had a government job? And why make such a bold prediction, especially within the first real posting on a new Web site attempting to have itself taken seriously?

08 Election 1This is based on pure observation. An observation readers can make as well. As you drive around beautiful historic Walker County, pay attention to the roadside election signs. The number of signs is divided pretty equally between Heiskell and Hames, and the Heiskell signs are really huge and impressive, most requiring two sandbags to keep upright. But pay closer attention, and notice not the number or size of the signs but their location. Andy Hames signs are in yards all over the county, popping up like daffodils in March. Bebe Heiskell signs are not in yards for the most part but in intersections, highway right-of-ways, forestry service access road entrances, and abandoned lots.

In the election next week, who’s going to vote? The weeds that live in abandoned lots or the trees living on forestry land? No, the people who live in houses, surrounded by yards, with Andy Hames signs in front of them. The number of yard signs in yards of homes where people actually live is much much higher for Hames than for Heiskell – even in Chickamauga where the citizens have benefited most from Heiskell’s uneven application of county funds.

2008 Election 2During the 2000 election, when Heiskell was running as an outsider and the only time she’s been opposed, I observed a county truck stopping to illegally nail up sign on a relative’s fence in front of an intersection. My relatives, who had no intention of voting for Heiskell, somehow ended up with a blue Bebe! poster nailed to their fence by a crew of county employees driving a county-logo pickup. Even if they were off the clock (which they may have been in the early afternoon), those employees were breaking the law by using a county vehicle to actively campaign for someone.

Why would county employees be campaigning for an individual running against the county’s then-incumbent commissioner? Because before Chapman was commissioner, Bebe served for a couple decades as Roy Parrish’s county administrator. She was to Parrish what David Ashburn is to her, the behind-the-scenes screw-turner getting things done within the county. And apparently from that time as administrator, Ms. Heiskell retained a lot of loyalty within some of the county’s departments. She was, afterall, only out of county government for 3.75 years before being voted into the Commissioner’s chair.

This time so far there have been no reports or sighting of county employees campaigning for the commissioner (not that it isn’t possible) but other methods are being used to convince the populace to pull the lever (touch the screen?) in favor of Heiskell. Methods like using SPLOST funds taken out of our pockets to buy land and make promises for new facilities, attractions, and services in parts of the county where most residents might not otherwise vote for her.

Hames and his family are from Kensington, the cove area – the exact place where Heiskell is spending $3.5 million of the state’s money to buy and preserve a mountain. That purchase is accompanied by promises to build yet another unstaffed museum and visitor center there. And it translates into buying votes with SPLOST funds. Similar attempts include the long-promised new community center in Villanow and other pet projects across the county that may or may not ever materialize. But it’s all funded with SPLOST and apparently designed to sway any fence sitters towards voting for Heiskell when they might not otherwise.

But if our observations are accurate, it’s too-little too-late. Those same people in the cove who applauded the decision to buy more land around Pigeon Mountain also saw last week that the sole remaining employer in that part of the county, Dow Reichhold, will close down in August. Bebe’s spending doesn’t bring their jobs back, and it doesn’t fix the last 7 1/2 years of empty promises and posturing. Rushing in one week before the vote to throw taxpayer money around hopefully isn’t enough to convince people of at least average intelligence to change their vote.

Time will tell – by this time next week you’ll know if we’re dead-on or just dead in the water.

Coming up before Tuesday: more posts about SPLOST and dissecting promises for future SPLOT-funded projects. And maybe we’ll have a chance to discuss LaFayette’s newest waste of money over by the airport.

…more coming soon.

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