Updated July 30, 2012 to add February receipt

Tax Exemption

Most purchases in Georgia are subjected to a 4% sales (“sales & usage”) tax. With three additional local taxes (LOST, SPLOST, and ESPLOST) the total sales tax paid on purchases in Walker County is 7%. In Tennessee, where residents don’t pay income tax, base state sales tax is 7% on most items. Hamilton County’s local tax brings the total there up to 9.25%.

As a benefit to particular people or industries, Georgia and Tennessee both exempt certain items, like medical supplies or groceries, from all or most sales tax. Purchases meant for resale are exempt too since they’ll be taxed again when the buyer resells them. This is, for the most part, fair and appropriate.

Both states also allow particular organizations to exempt themselves from paying the tax; Schools, nonprofits, churches, and government agencies – among others considered beneficial to the community – can skip paying state and local sales tax in Tennessee. Georgia (excepting churches) does the same thing. Organizations wishing to be tax exempt must file appropriate papers with each retailer they do business with, and often sign a form stating that the purchase will only be used for charitable purposes.

This, too, is for the most part fair and appropriate.

What isn’t fair or appropriate is when items purchased tax-free are bought to benefit an individual person instead of the public. And Walker County’s legitimate tax ID number has been used for that very thing: to help one person avoid paying her fare share of sales tax.

On February 14th 12th, Walker County Sole-Commissioner-For-Life Bebe Heiskell visited Southeastern Salvage in Chattanooga with her granddaughter. According to store employees, the two of them picked out some mirrors and wall art, discussing how nice the items would look in their home. At one point they were overheard discussing the items as a birthday present for the teenager. Heiskell paid with her personal credit card, but gave the cashier Walker County’s tax ID number to make the purchase exempt from Tennessee sales tax.

We looked up Tennessee’s sales tax laws, and found that technically the Volunteer State doesn’t give tax breaks to out-of-state government entities. That means no purchase made with Walker County’s tax ID, even ones made for legitimate reasons, should be exempt in Tennessee. Responsibility for that mistake falls on the store that accepted the number.

However even if out-of-state government purchases WERE allowed in Tennessee, it would still be illegal and unethical for anyone working in government or another exempt organization to use that entity’s exempt tax number for their own benefit. It’s also illegal in Tennessee to pay for tax exempt purchases with a personal check or card (as Bebe did); payment must be directly from the exempt organization.

This wasn’t a one-time mistake.

On another trip to Southeastern Salvage on April 23, Heiskell purchased a hand-tufted wool rug for the bargain price of $49. Again, the purchase was declared tax exempt and the Commissioner saved herself $4.53 meant for Hamilton County and the State of Tennessee.

If Bebe Heiskell cheats sales tax laws at Southeastern Salvage, it’s not much of a stretch to assume she’s done the same at other stores in Tennessee, and likely in Georgia as well. How often does Madame Commissioner shop in Walker County without paying the required taxes? Hopefully never, but in light of her behavior in Tennessee we have to wonder.

Heiskell has been a strong advocate of sales taxes to keep property tax rates low. She’s fought year after year to encourage voters to keep the SPLOST sales tax, and Walker County’s general budget would collapse without the 1% LOST tax charged on everything sold in the county. She’s also advocating for the TSPLOST sales tax increase voters will see on their ballots in July. So it’s ironic that the county’s sole commissioner is out at the same time breaking laws to avoid paying her own share of sales taxes in a neighboring community.

If Walker citizens somehow exempted themselves from paying sales tax in the county, Bebe would raise hell, bring in lawyers to rectify the situation, and complain the entire time to any media outlet that would listen. But when it comes to her own pocketbook she bends the rules and any possible excuse is perfectly acceptable.

The commissioner, or her supporters, will explain away the incidents mentioned here. She made a mistake, it didn’t happen, or it doesn’t matter because the amounts of money are so small.

But it wasn’t a mistake, it did happen, and these few dollars of sales tax not paid in Tennessee are a big deal, because they reveal much about Heiskell’s attitude and behavior in general. She hasn’t just made herself tax exempt, she’s habitually exempted herself from rules and standards the rest of us must follow.

She’s exempted herself from sales tax, from transparency, from honesty, from having to listen to her constituents. She’s broken laws about prison labor abuse, environmental destruction, nepotism, even public intoxication – and engages in shady business deals with other untrustworthy people.

Things that would get anyone else in trouble, or send them to jail, are acceptable for Heiskell. That mindset of being better than everyone else, of being above the rules, is a direct result of her thirty-plus years in government and twelve years of sole leadership in Walker County. It also comes from her position being unaccountable – she answers to nobody except the voters, and voters stay in the dark because of her “gentle treatment” by intimidated spineless local media.

This summer Walker County citizens need to show Bebe she’s not exempt from the rules, and not exempt from scrutiny, by holding her accountable at the ballot box. If Heiskell is voted out of office in July, she can start paying her fair share and obeying the law like the rest of us do.

America doesn’t have a king, and Walker County shouldn’t have a queen exempt from the rules she makes the rest of us follow.

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  1. A few notes about this:

    There is a second receipt verifying the earlier purchase in February, but our source misplaced it. If it turns back up we’ll amend it to this.

    We fully expect to hear an excuse/defense for this, maybe even see someone from county government sneak a rug into the Commissioner office soon. And David Ashburn will tell you it’s OK because he’s a police officer – like that’s relevant.

    — LU

  2. VOTE VOTE VOTE! I spent 20 years of my life defending you RIGHT to do so, so please spend 20 minutes of your time and VOTE. Please VOTE! The only way we can take charge of our future is to take action in the present! PLEASE VOTE!

  3. You people in Walker County are too spineless to do anything about this. Bebe could steal money in plain sight and she would get another term because she’s “been there” for dog years. Here’s betting that she wins with 55% of the vote next month.

  4. This is called Fraud.
    If a ordinary citizen did this, they would be hearing a knock at the door before long.
    Some people seem to be above the law.

  5. Has there been any response to this? I’d be interested to hear what she has to say.

    Good Job LU and thank you source!

  6. What a horrible, horrible picture of her.

  7. Wait a minute….. They have hand-tufted rugs for $49?!

  8. It’s amazing what some people will do in order to maintain their standard of living. In this case, it’s all about what she can get away with, explain away, or just plain ignore as if it doesn’t exist. It’s past time to get rid of the sole commissioner position in Walker County, and for us to join the 21st century by having a commission. Accountability must be had in government.

  9. Our commissioner BeBe Heiskell has a got alot from my friends of Walker county. She has a get out of jail free card and I dont pay county or city taxes. Those taxes pay me but I don’t have to pay you. I am at the Huddle House with a buzz. I need a county taxi to come here and get me. You take me home and bring my car with you!!! Now I am going to Chatt. Walker county will pay my taxes and my fine, OOh by the way my tow bill too.


  11. Here’s Bebe’s response, in the Bebe Newsletter a/k/a the Walker County Messenger:


    According to the “legitimate” media (which just copies press releases), the rug she bought for herself tax exempt in Tennessee was bought with money from a “yet unnamed private foundation” for use at Mountain Cove Farms. Except she still can’t use the county tax ID for some other organization, and out-of-state government entities cannot get tax exemption in Tennessee anyway.

    She broke the law, but she broke it FOR YOU! Bebe is doing all she can to get the farm renovated in time for tens of thousands of tourists to stay there this fall, and if she happens to violate a few laws along the way we have no place to challenge her or even question this mysterious new foundation that can’t do its own purchases or have its own tax ID number.

    And we’re hateful for daring to challenge her.


    (How much longer before Heiskell hires Christi McIntyre from the Messenger to work for her? Larry Brooks got a county job based on his butt-kissing articles when he worked there, so after the election if Bebe wins, it shouldn’t be a shock if McIntire – who keeps signing her name to hack work like this – ends up with a sweet county position.)

    Fortunately the Messenger piece does link to this original article, so welcome new readers. Hope you find the site useful.

    — LU

  12. Sounds like you people got WAAAAAAY too much time on your hands

  13. Yes we do, and glad that you joined us!

  14. Image of earlier receipt added July 30th. The original source had it, as we said, but misplaced it behind the fridge or something. It’s a bit worn, those thermal paper tickets don’t hold up well, but it’s readable. We were off by two days, the 12th instead of the 14th, but what we said she bought and how she paid for it is exactly dead on.

    — LU

  15. wonder how much her bank account grew over a 20 year period. with know body for her to account too. how many laws has she broken. 20 years is long enough to live off our county money. lets vote her out.