2012
07.29

    E-mail interview conducted with Walker County Commissioner candidates Bebe Heiskell and Dr. Paul Shaw. Heiskell is the incumbent seeking her fourth term. Seventh of twelve Q&A’s scheduled before the July 31st vote.

LU: What is your full name, and what name do you generally go by?

    HEISKELL: [no response]

    SHAW: George Paul Shaw, Jr. and I go by PAUL.

LU: What is your age?

    HEISKELL: [no response]

    SHAW: 68 years

LU: What is your home address? (We will only publish the street/town, not your house number.)

    HEISKELL: [no response]

    SHAW: Westshore Drive, LaFayette, GA 30728

    Ms Heiskell lives on Garretts Chapel Rd. west of Chickamauga.

LU: How can voters contact you or stay in touch with your campaign? (Please include info like e-mail, phone, Facebook, Twitter, etc. if applicable.)

LU: How long have you lived in the county, and (if applicable) where else have you lived?

    HEISKELL: [no response]

    SHAW: I’ve lived all of my life in Walker County except while attending the University of Georgia, Medical School, Family Practice Residency, Military service – I’ve lived in Chattanooga, TN; Chickamaug, GA; Anderson, SC and Guadalajara, Mexico .

LU: What’s the best thing about living in this community?

    HEISKELL: [no response]

    SHAW: The citizens of this county and the opportunities that have been presented to me to have a place to raise my family and to be an active part of the community.

LU: Starting as early as you want, what kind of education do you have?

    HEISKELL: [no response]

    SHAW: Primary- North LaFayette Elementary. Secondary – LaFayette High School; University of GA – BBA in Real Estate and Finance; Premed at University of Chattanooga (now UTC); Medical School at Universidad Autonoma de Guadalajara; Medical College of Georgia, Anderson Memorial Hospital for Family Practice Residency;

    We’ve been able to find nothing in research that details Ms. Heiskell’s education.

LU: What is your current occupation?

    HEISKELL: [no response]

    SHAW: Retired Family Physician (MD)

    Heiskell is full-time County Commissioner.

LU: What previous jobs or elected positions have you held?

    HEISKELL: [no response]

    SHAW: 1-Chairman, Walker County Board of Health (18 years) where I established a $200,000+ Reserve Fund for emergencies by efficient management and budgeting
    2-President of the Walker Dade Catoosa Medical Society, elected for three terms
    3- President of the Lions Club
    4- Chairman of the LaFayette Airport Authority, elected for two terms 2009 and 2010

    Heiskell worked for Walker County in various roles from 1972 until 1986 when she was appointed County Coordinator by then-commissioner Roy Parrish. When Parrish retired in 1996, Heiskell ran to replace him but was defeated in that year’s Democratic Primary by Buddy Chapman. She served as Chickamauga “zoning administrator” from 1997 to 2000, then ran for Commissioner again as a Republican. She defeated Chapman that year and has been the county’s solo commissioner ever since. She also owns a trailer park in Chickamauga.

LU: Do/will aspects of your education or job experiences make you a better Commissioner? If so please explain.

    HEISKELL: [no response]

    SHAW: I have a wide knowledge-base in business management and all aspects of managing employees and communicating with the public. I’m fluent in English and Spanish. From many years of listening to my patients, I’ve developed communication skills, know how to determine the best course for a particular situation, making the best decisions for that situation. I have an ability to manage finances in my personal and professional life. I have a lifelong history of honesty and being forthright in all my business and personal associations. I have committed the past thirty years to practicing medicine in LaFayette and have been married to my wife, Irma, for over 38 years. I understand loyalty and commitment.

LU: During your time as Commissioner, what would you consider to be your greatest accomplishment? (Heiskell only)

    HEISKELL: [no response]

LU: What would you say is the greatest accomplishment of the sitting Commissioner, and is there anything your opponent has done during her time in office that you intend to emulate? (Shaw only)

    SHAW: Her greatest accomplishment has been serving three consecutive terms as commissioner.

LU: Is there anything from your time in office that you regret or wish you could do differently? (Heiskell only)

    HEISKELL: [no response]

LU: What would you say is the biggest failure of the sitting Commissioner, and what actions of your opponent would you have done differently? (Shaw only)

    SHAW: I believe her greatest failure is the lack of transparency and an inability to communicate with the citizens of Walker County. There appears to be a lack of perspective in regards to existing business such as Bluebird and an inappropriate use of the taxpayers money (Mtn. Cove Farms, Cardinal Equipment, Noble land purchase from the Swansons for $10,000 per acre and options to buy the other 400+ acres and other real estate purchases made without the knowledge of the taxpayers). When Bebe took office, she complained about our county being in about $5million of debt. NOW, we ARE approaching $40million in liabilities in Walker County.
    I would never have gotten us into this type of indebtedness with wasteful spending of the citizens’ tax dollars. That is why I plan to have on the last Thursday of each month, a forum at the Walker County Civic Center, where they can express their concerns. We will also open sealed bids for county projects at this time. The county government will return to their role of providing security, fire and ambulance services, and assuring other essential government services such as water, electricity, maintenance of roads and byways, etc. – we won’t have a county government involved in nonessential services.

LU: What are your priorities for the next four years if you’re elected/reelected?

    HEISKELL: [no response]

    SHAW: (1) Reestablish Financial Responsibility and stability in Walker County
    (2) Allow the citizens of Walker County to determine the form of government they wish to have. I would like for the citizens of Walker County in July 2014 to vote on whether they wish to continue the solo commissioner or a five-person commission based on five equal population districts.
    (3) A referendum for term limits for the board of commissioners.
    (4) Develop a Reserve Fund
    (5) Reduce property assessment by 5% my first year in office and another 5% my second years to bring the property values taxed down to where realtors and banks are telling us they should be based on true market values, not inflated assessments. How will we make up the difference to have the money for the budgeted items we need? I plan to cut unnecessary expenditures, increase efficiency in every department, review the current spending patterns and eliminate those that are not effective and are duplicate services.
    (6) Realistic planning for the future and become industry and job friendly, streamline the business permitting process so that a permit can be obtained in a timely manner
    (7) Buy essential supplies such as office products, gasoline, etc. in bulk
    (8) I plan to evaluate and implement GPS services for all county vehicles so we can eliminate unnecessary usage and provide greater safety for the employees.

LU: Is there any criteria, philosophy, or overall guideline you use/will use when making decisions for the county?

    HEISKELL: [no response]

    SHAW: I will always rationally approach the decision-making process, look at all possible aspects (pro AND con) and seeking the input of employees and citizenry to make county decisions without personal emotions, involvement or gain. I will never participate in nepotism, cronyism, or back-room deals. I will have transparency as previously stated and will be honest in all of my dealings, both with the county and personally.

LU: During a property tax meeting in 2010, you said “we are learning to do things more efficiently.” During your current term, what changes have you made to make county government more efficient? (Heiskell only)

    HEISKELL: [no response]
    In 2010 Heiskell bragged about saving money by cutting the road budget from $3 million in 2000 to $1.5 million ten years later. She also cut road barn staff through attrition. If you don’t believe her, go look at most county roads. She also claims to save the county money by issuing everyone (including herself) a take-home vehicle because it’s cheaper than reimbursing mileage, and kept insurance costs from going up by opening a county-run nurse station in her office and buying employees a gym membership. She has not employed any furlough days for county employees but has frozen their pay for several years.

LU: We’ve heard rumors and reports that your first step after becoming Commissioner will be to lay off most county employees and shut down departments like Emergency Services and the road barn. Will you really be firing people, and if not what steps will you take to make Walker County’s government more efficient? (Shaw only)

    SHAW: This is absolutely absurd and is a rumor I believe is fueled by the current commissioner’s supporters. I have no intention of doing a firing or hiring spree once elected. The EMS/Firemen we have in place are doing a great job. The overwhelming majority of Walker County employees are hardworking and dedicated to our county. Furthermore, I have never had any intention of replacing our employees at this time except: David Ashburn, Larry Brooks, and Don Oliver.
    Some of my plans to increase safety and efficiency have already been outlined. Scheduling of services and work orders will be done more professionally. Continuing education for county employees will be available. It is my understanding that county employees haven’t had a pay increase in the past 5 years. If this in correct, I will endeavor to find a way to correct this problem. Our county will be veteran-friendly and promote our local Veterans Administrations office

LU: During that same meeting in 2010, you said “we can create a thousand jobs in two years.” Has Walker County reached the 1,000 new jobs goal, and what has county government done to bring those new jobs in? What future plans do you have to continue bringing in new jobs and new businesses? (Heiskell only)

    HEISKELL: [no response]
    The core of Ms. Heiskell’s 2012 campaign is new jobs and industry in the community. She’s taken credit for a smattering of new jobs, 40 here and 20 there, but the number of new jobs coming in pales in comparison to the number lost during the same time; new unemployment claims in Walker during June alone were more than 370.

    The county’s overall unemployment rate is among the nation’s lowest, but that’s a statistical trick – the government only tracks unemployed people who still get unemployment benefits. Joblessness hit Walker County early enough that many unemployed here have exhausted their benefits and have given up on finding work. If those people were being counted, as they should be, our numbers would be in the toilet.

    A former executive at BlueBird, which closed down its Walker County location in 2010, has recently blamed the company’s decision to leave on Heiskell. According to him, her refusal to give the business incentives and seeming disinterest in their operations caused LaFayette to lose BlueBird’s 350+ jobs. Video Part I | Video Part II

LU: What plans do you have to bring new jobs to Walker County? (Shaw only)

    SHAW: (1)Streamline the residential and business permitting process.
    (2)Modernize and streamline all county services (road repair, water, maintenance, billing, etc.) in an effort to make moving to our county more business and residential friendly
    (3) Employees of the various departments in the county will be trained in customer service skills promoting respect and courtesy at all times.
    (4) Prospective industry will be offered property tax exemptions and priority assistance in developing their plans and hiring of employees.
    (5) I would like to see us work with GA Northwestern Technical College and our county school system to develop courses that will promote dual enrollment and technical careers for our ever- evolving digital age.

LU: Your opponent has claimed that the county is anywhere from $30 to $60 million in debt. You have insisted the claims aren’t true. How much debt DOES Walker County have, and how do you intend to reduce the amounts (if any) owed? (Heiskell only)

    HEISKELL: [no response]

LU: One criticism you’ve had of your opponent is the amount of debt she’s gotten the county into. You’ve said Commissioner Shaw won’t be selling so many bonds, but you’ve also said the current Commissioner should have done more to keep companies like BlueBird in the county. Can you keep companies here, bring in new ones, and still avoid going into debt with incentive packages for businesses? (Shaw only)

    SHAW: Yes, we can, utilizing the previously-described goals outlined above. We will establish a reserve fund, which is lacking with the current commissioner. At the present time, we have no funds to pay for bond issues that come due. The current idea is to issue MORE bonds to pay off previous bonds or just add another SPLOST tax.

LU: A renewal of the SPLOST sales tax will be coming up next year. What projects do you hope to fund with SPLOST in your next/first term?

    HEISKELL: [no response]

    SHAW: Personally, I’m not a fan of SPLOST taxes. I don’t have any special projects at this time, but if the people want a SPLOST tax and vote to renew it, I will support whatever the people desire.

LU: Do you support the TSPLOST sales tax, why or why not? Do you have plans for the undesignated 25% of TSPLOST funds the county will receive over the next ten years?

    HEISKELL: [no response]

    SHAW: NO, I do NOT support TSPLOST. We have no guarantee that Walker County will receive all of even a specified portion of this money. Remember, it is for a REGION, not just Walker County. I have read reports that of the $34million that is projected to be collected from Walker County, we may get as little as $7million. Furthermore, the idea of widening Wilson Road into a four-lane is not only foolhardy, but Tennessee has no plans to build a four-lane connector through Alton Park and displace hundreds or persons in the process. There is nothing in it for the benefit of Walker County or the state of Tennessee. The current commissioner made a public statement that she had a letter from the governor of Tennessee stating they would provide a connector. This is a pure fabrication and falsification according to the current “Tennessee political powers-that be”.

    Heiskell is strongly in favor of TSPLOST. Walker County’s projects, primarily the Wilson Rd. Connector, were put on the list by Heiskell – that’s why all but two of them benefit Chickamauga. Heiskell is excited to get the 25% of TSPLOST funds that aren’t designated for road projects, and she will likely spend them as conservatively and wisely as she spends the county’s TSPLOST money (ie, not at all). It’s a back door way to push you to raise your own taxes so she doesn’t have to.

LU: In recent months we’ve seen drastic cuts to staff and services at Cherokee Regional Library because of school system budget problems. What are your thoughts and plans about helping the library system financially as commissioner?

    HEISKELL: [no response]

    SHAW: The Cherokee Regional Library system is a great benefit to our area. I will do everything I can do to help it. It provides many hours of enjoyment to our citizens providing services such as books, magazines, computer access, and films. We can’t afford to lose any more funds for the library. I will meet with their staff to develop a plan to improve their current situation. My wife and I are both members of the Friends of the Library.

    Heiskell has spoken in support of a separate additional property tax to fund the library system.

LU: During the last ten years Walker County has acquired a number of assets designated for tourism, including Mt. Cove Farms, the Marsh House, and the old Long John Silvers building in LaFayette. Has the county been able to successfully draw in tourists with these properties, and what plans (if any) do you have for promoting them to the outside world during the next four years? (Heiskell only)

    HEISKELL: [no response]
    Heiskell has never provided any figures for tourist impact generated by any of her projects and does not disclose finances for any of the tourism properties separate from the county’s general budget. We would bet they lose money, and lots of it, because none of those properties are advertised in any way.

LU: You’ve also been critical of your opponent for spending tax dollars on assets designated for tourism, including Mt. Cove Farms. Once elected what are your plans for that site and others like the Marsh House and the old Long John Silvers building in LaFayette? (Shaw only)

    SHAW: RE: Mountain Cove Farms – my personal feeling is that Walker County Government should not be IN the tourism business. Tourism develops from private enterprise and it develops on its own. You cannot buy tourism, just like you cannot borrow your way into financial security. I will evaluate its usage, how much we’ve invested into the project, and the best way to recoup our money. We may need to find a buyer who wishes to maintain the property and not divide it into building sites or large scale development. I want the input from current residents of the Cove to assist in determining its future.
    RE: Long John Silvers – In May 2012, a local civic organization wrote a letter to the current commissioner, asking her to consider letting the Old Long John Silvers building in LaFayette be used for monthly meetings, art lessons, community events, etc. TO-DATE, that request has not been acknowledged. The commissioner told one of this civic organizations’ members to come and see her after the election to discuss it.
    RE: Marsh House – I believe it should be maintained as it is now. I would like to see more people get involved in the preservation, maintenance and promotion of the site along with the Chattooga Academy site.

LU: Over the years, your argument for keeping the sole-commissioner form of government is its efficiency. Fewer politicians involved in the process makes government more efficient and reduces overhead. Since sole-leader government IS more efficient, would you support a similar system for state or federal government? Would you support the same system, an elected governor and no state legislature, for Georgia if it were put up for a vote? (Heiskell only)

    HEISKELL: [no response]
    Our question is silly, because nobody would support dissolving the state legislature or congress to make government more efficient. No one person should have unfettered control over a state or entire nation – that’s a dictatorship. But if a national leader with no congress or accountability is a dictator, what do you call a county leader with the same situation? Exactly. The sole-leader form of government makes no sense at any level of representative government. Heiskell’s refusal to let Walker County vote on its system of government may lead to her downfall.

    During last month’s Candidate Forum, Heiskell spoke out against a commission because it would lead to “buck passing” and could possibly result in one commissioner having too much power over the county. Unlike the current system where the one Commissioner always has too much power over the county.

LU: A key part of your platform is allowing voters to choose a commission based government. How do you intend to make that happen, and if it does come to pass how will you prevent a commission from slowing down county government and making it less efficient? (Shaw only)

    SHAW: As previously stated, a special election will be called and the citizens of Walker County will determine if they want to continue with one person in control of a $21million budget to be spent as he or she personally sees fit, without regards to popular opinion. I don’t understand the urgency to spend money without direct input from the citizens of Walker County. I have heard this argument from Commissioner Heiskell. Look where it’s gotten us, millions of dollars in debt and no input from anyone, as she provides her own counsel. This may be “fast”, but I personally feel that deliberation and consideration is much preferred over speed.
    The “slowing down government” argument is ludicrous. An efficient, speedy government with no roadblocks, controls, or accountability is a government more able to run over its citizens’ rights and ignore their wishes.

LU: Please summarize in a single paragraph why residents of Walker County should vote for you in the upcoming election:

    HEISKELL: [no response]

    SHAW: I believe I offer an alternative to the current administration based on a logical approach to all aspects of government. I will base decisions on the input from our citizens and our financial resources available, and economic feasibility of any future projects.

LU: Is there anything else voters should know about you? Family, faith, philosophy, inspirations, etc.?

    HEISKELL: [no response]

    SHAW: I am married to Irma Mendoza Shaw. I have three children: Heather Shaw Dendy, Jeff Shaw and Scott Shaw. All of my children graduated from LaFayette High School and have attended various colleges, receiving their degrees. I have three grandchildren: Madison, Ethan and Benjamin. My son-in-law is Will Dendy.
    My family attends St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Trion, GA.
    I was once told by a very wise man, a friend of mine, that our lives are divided into three segments. The first third of our life is spent getting education and training for our future. The second third of our lives is spent putting that education to use to provide for ourselves and family. The last third of our life should be devoted giving back to the community in which we live and who has supported us through the years. This is why I am running for county commissioner to repay Walker County for all it has given to me.
    Thank you my fellow citizens for allowing me to be of service to you for the past thirty years. I look forward to representing you for the next four years as your commissioner.
    Dr. G Paul Shaw

Walker County adopted the sole-commissioner form of government in 1940, after residents demanded a change. But the time for that system has long since passed. After 72 years, Walker County is now too big with too big a budget for anyone to manage alone, and has too many residents to be adequately represented by a sole person.

Under Georgia law a tiny city of 300 like Lyerly is required to have a mayor and city council, but the state allows a single leader to manage a county with 70,000 people. No other state permits this antiquated system to stand, and in Georgia only nine of 159 counties still employ it. Walker is the second highest populated of those counties, making it the second biggest government in the entire United States headed by a sole leader. Everyone knows the current system is ridiculous, but Commissioner Heiskell refuses to let the citizens have a say about changing it.

Beyond that, her 12 years of sole leadership have been a disaster. Despite her cheery propaganda (“Walker County / Where Unemployment is Plummeting!”), many here don’t have jobs, and all too many who do have jobs aren’t paid very well at them. She has no comprehensive plan to bring in new jobs, she hasn’t marketed the county sufficiently to the outside world, and continually invests money meant for infrastructure into toys like Mountain Cove Farms and the empty Villanow Community Center. Heiskell also failed the people of Walker County by dragging her feet for ten years to get an adequate memorial built for victims of the Tri-State Crematory disgrace, despite being given $45,000 to build it with.

After four decades of being a bureaucrat and twelve years of being County Dictator, Heiskell has lost touch with what most residents want or need, and considers herself exempt from the rules. In 2010 she told residents begging her not to raise their taxes that she would make the decision “based not on what you say but on what I know.” And that’s how she makes every decision. Outside of the few months before an election, Heiskell is an elected Queen who ignores the will of the people and seeks to better herself and her allies above the rest of us.

Her questionable ethics and actions have been mentioned here time and time again: sales tax fraud, misusing prisoner labor, public intoxication, shady business deals, more shady business deals, not disciplining an employee who let prisoners escape, and last week’s revelation of environmental destruction and an effort to cover it up. And those are just the recent ones we can remember.

Her ethical problems are amplified by leaders and advisers she surrounds herself with, people like Larry Brooks and Donald Oliver who have shady pasts and questionable qualifications. The county’s payroll is also stuffed with Heiskell’s relatives, campaign supporters, and friends with jobs that defy description or logic.

Heiskell’s time as Walker County Commissioner should be done. We need not just a new leader, but a new system – an accountable commission or committee, a county organizational chart that doesn’t look like a plate of spaghetti, transparency in decisions and finance, and a government that serves the people (ALL the people) instead of mostly ignoring them outside of election years.

Dr. Shaw has no political experience, he’s never before run for elected office, and he’s not as knowledgeable about some aspects of government as Heiskell. But with Shaw we will have a leader willing to admit his weaknesses and seek out help where needed, one who will be honest with the people, one who doesn’t regard transparency as dangerous, and (most importantly) one who will let us vote to change the system of government here to a modern committee instead of antiquated monarchy.

And that is why The LaFayette Underground very strongly endorses Dr. Paul Shaw for Commissioner (the last Sole Commissioner) of Walker County.

Walker County Messenger: Bebe Heiskell | Dr. Paul Shaw

Elections are next Tuesday, July 31, from 7 AM to 7 PM. LaFayette residents will vote at the Walker Co Senior Center, voting locations for other residents vary. Early voting has ended.

THE RULES:

Last week the Underground e-mailed candidates for 12 competitive local races (all except County Surveyor) a series of questions. Candidates who have no opponent on the July ballot were not included; those with opposition in November will be contacted before the November vote.

Candidates were asked to respond to the questions via e-mail by a certain deadline, and were instructed not to share their answers with each other before we made them public. Every candidate in the same race was given the same set of questions except where noted above.

Candidates who did not respond by the deadline have [no response] after their name for each question asked, and candidates who responded but chose to skip certain questions are marked [no response]. Responses received after this point will not be accepted for a full post, but candidates are welcome to add to their responses, answer questions, or respond to our opinions in the comment section below.

Answers are copied directly from e-mail without corrections or changes except for redaction of addresses. Redactions or any editorial clarifications of questions or answers are made in [brackets]. Our thoughts are in italics beneath the responses.

Additional Q&A responses will be posted up until election day.

All LaFayette Underground 2012 Election Posts

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  1. Dr. Shaw, you better watch those absentee ballots, there has been many elections won on absentee votes, simply because they let Dead People vote that were never removed from the election register. And also, people that doesn’t live in the county anymore, I think that they aren’t taken off the register either. It would be so simple for someone to go through the register and remove the ones that are deceased. Just take a look at the people you are dealing with in the election process.