2016
11.02

Bebe Heiskell & Shannon Whitfield

Months after being called out on this blog for breaking state ethics laws, Commissioner Bebe Heiskell has finally been reported for that behavior by the Walker County Republican Party and her “leading” opponent, Shannon Whitfield.

That complaint and actions leading up to it have launched a public war, at least on social media, between Heiskell and Whitfield over whose ethical problems are the worst – with both candidates rightfully accusing the other of engaging in bad behaviors they’re BOTH guilty of participating in or tolerating until recently.

Bottom line: Pot meet kettle, both figuratively “black” – both ethically challenged, and neither worthy of voter support.

Bebe Heiskell June 2016 Campaign Report - Audia Donation / $3,000

As revealed in June’s campaign finance report, Bebe took more money in May from Audia than allowed by law – $400 over the state’s $2,600 limit. LU called Heiskell out in a post here and encouraged a complaint be filed against her for the violation.

She insisted she’d done nothing wrong, and no formal ethics report was filed at the time by her opponents or anyone else involved in the election.

Heiskell’s behavior continued. By the end of September, her campaign had collected not $400 over the limit but fifty times that much – nearly twenty THOUSAND dollars beyond the state’s donation cap, from fourteen different donors. Those donors include major county vendors and business partners like Audia, Findlay Tall Timbers, Talley Construction, and Flegal Insurance.

A Chattanooga Times Free Press report detailing that abuse finally prompted a response from Heiskell’s opposition. On October 17 Walker County Republican Party leaders Dean Kelley and Mike Cameron, both involved in the Whitfield campaign, filed a formal complaint about Heiskell with the state ethics committee.

Along with the complaint from party leaders, Shannon Whitfield commented on social media that Heiskell was displaying “disrespect” for state law.

Bebe at the Chamber / Dan Henry Times Free Press

This is hardly the first time Heiskell has skirted the law; LU has posted a steady list of her ethical problems for the last seven years, and many people on Team Whitfield today (including Mike Cameron and one-time write-in opponent Ales Campbell) were calling her out for her corruption during the 2012 campaign.

But Mr. Whitfield himself never publicly disagreed with Heiskell or objected to her behavior until a year ago – and in fact his family business, the company where he serves as Chief Financial Officer, was regularly cutting campaign checks for Heiskell until 2014.

Even worse, donations to Heiskell from Whitfield Oil during the 2012 election cycle went over the state’s legal cap. Shannon Whitfield broke the same laws then, for Heiskell’s benefit, that his backers are reporting Bebe for breaking this year.

Whitfield Donation to Bebe - 2011

Whitfield Donation to Bebe - 2012

Checks from Whitfield Oil to Heiskell written in June 2011 and June 2012 add up to $3,500 – a thousand dollars over the primary campaign donation limit at the time. (In 2015 the cap was raised by $100.) Those donations are clearly marked in Heiskell’s finance report as being for the same election cycle – the 2012 Republican primary where she defeated Dr. Paul Shaw by only 214 votes.

When asked earlier this year about Whitfield Oil’s 2012 contribution to Heiskell, Shannon Whitfield pled ignorance. He claimed he wasn’t paying attention to county government back then because “we were focused on running our own business.” He later stated he didn’t realize the commissioner was a problem until he read the county’s 2014 financial report in fall 2015, a few months before he declared his candidacy.

It’s understandable that Whitfield might not have realized his multiple donations to Heiskell for the 2012 election were breaking the law. However, it’s hard to believe he could sit on the Chickamauga City Council as an elected official, serve as a leader at the Chamber of Commerce, and be part of the county library board, yet have no idea until late 2015 that Bebe was running the county off a cliff.

One thing Shannon Whitfield absolutely cannot deny knowing about before 2015 is Bebe’s habit of swapping campaign donations for lucrative county contracts and business deals. He can’t claim ignorance of that one, because he and Whitfield Oil Company were involved in it – as he freely admitted back in March.

Defending the 2012 Heiskell donation from Whitfield Oil as a business necessity, Whitfield said Heiskell’s campaign committee applied “pressure” to its larger vendors, including his company, to participate in fundraising.

At risk of losing the county’s money after “generations” of no-bid deals, Shannon gave Heiskell a check for her golf tournament.

Why didn’t Shannon Whitfield have a problem with Heiskell’s ethics then, when she “pressured” him to do something unethical and possibly illegal through his company on her behalf?

Because then it was to his benefit. (Maybe that’s why he describes that 2012 Heiskell donation as an “investment.”)

Bebe herself has alluded to this. As she pointed out on Facebook this month, he was fine with her job performance as long as he was also getting paid:

    Bebe Heiskell Facebook, 10/16/16 [Archived]: “Mr. Whitfield and his family fully supported me for years. They received millions in business from the county and as long as that money was flowing in his direction I was the best commissioner ever. Obviously now that the money is not flowing from county coffers he spends his time beating on me and doing anything within his power turn the money flow back on.”

In 2013 alone, Whitfield Oil Company did $1.3 million in business with Walker County. Not a bad return on that $3,500 “investment.”

Mr. Whitfield has declined on multiple occasions to reveal the company’s profit margin on those sales, but presumably they didn’t sell several hundred thousand gallons of diesel fuel to the county without making a little bit of a profit. At least enough of a profit to justify paying “campaign donations” to Heiskell until June 2014 and not reporting them to the state as the bribes they actually were.

Whitfield Donation to Bebe - 2014

If Shannon Whitfield had refused to give Bebe money under pressure in 2011 or 2012 and taken her pay-to-play demands to the state, she very likely would have been investigated during the last election, probably would have lost the 214 votes that beat Dr. Shaw, and could have landed in jail.

But if he HAD reported what was going on, Shannon Whitfield and his family might well have missed out on a good portion of the millions Bebe was spending with Daddy’s company year after year.

As Whitfield continued giving Heiskell support and kept his mouth shut about her illegal demands, Bebe squeaked out another win in 2012. That fourth four-year term, soon coming to an end, has been more damaging to the county than her first twelve years of bad leadership combined.

Since 2012, Heiskell has flaunted the law, watched Hutcheson destroy itself, sold off valuable assets while buying up worthless property, put the county into legal hot water on multiple occasions, rewarded her supporters with special projects, raised taxes twice, racked up debt that won’t be paid off in our lifetimes, and driven county government to the edge of bankruptcy.

All things Shannon Whitfield eagerly points out to attack Heiskell – even as he neglects to mention his own role in enabling her to do everything she’s done since January 2013.

Shannon Whitfield Slideshow

Whitfield’s criticisms of Heiskell’s actions are valid complaints, but HE has no grounds to make them NOW because of the years he ignored and/or participated in her corruption. He didn’t say or do anything to stop her, then contributed support to her election campaigns and the renewal of SPLOST in 2013 – something else he’s now criticizing her for mishandling.

Someone who goes after another for doing the exact same things they do is the dictionary definition of hypocrite. Whitfield’s hypocrisy is worse than usual because it’s based in political opportunism. He isn’t actually concerned with what she’s done, only with how he can use what she’s done to get her job for himself.

Much of Walker County’s Republican leadership and many others who have rallied around Whitfield are equally hypocritical. They, too, had no problem with Bebe’s behavior, her destructive mismanagement, unethical campaigning, possible elections fraud, and derisive form of governance until she stopped being politically useful to them and was encouraged to exit the party.

In mid-2015 it became clear that Heiskell was politically and physically too weakened to continue as commissioner for another term. That’s when key Republican Party leaders and some of the county’s deep-pocket families, including the Whitfields, Pattons, and Teems, picked Shannon Whitfield as their champion to replace Bebe – then began attacking her for behaving exactly as she had behaved (with their support) since taking office in 2001.

More hypocrisy.

Bebe Jung Il

Bebe, too, displays extreme hypocrisy in her criticism of Shannon Whitfield.

    Bebe Heiskell Facebook, 10/16/16 [Archived]: “It should be noted that the Ledbetter’s have donated approximately 20,000 dollars to Mr. Whitfield’s campaign. That is about 26% of all the money his campaign raised. Although I think everyone has a right to support candidates. The idea that one group would give that kind of money in such a short period of time, is questionable at best. Mr. Whitfield has managed to figure out how to circumvent the spirit of the law by having the Ledbetter’s split their contributions between multiple family members. In essence he is just another Washington DC politician who find loopholes in the law while he accuses his opponent of such and then gets the liberal media to write what he wants.”

Whitfield DID break “the spirit of the law” by taking $2,500 each from four members of the Ledbetter family for both the primary and general election – a total of $20,000 this year. It’s technically legal, but to be ethical he shouldn’t have accepted it. Taking that much cash from one family gives them an undue level of influence over the candidate, something the law was meant to curtail.

However, Heiskell has no room to point that out because she’s done the same thing for years, and is guilty of it this year too. One of her over-the-top donors, Elliott Davenport ($5,500), owns with his family another over-the-top donor, Chattanooga Burger King ($3,000).

Likewise, Findlay Tall Timbers ($4,500) and North Georgia Logistics ($3,000) are essentially different units of the same business, a distributor for Nissin – which itself gave Heiskell another thousand dollars. (Nissin and NGA Logistics both have tax-free buildings in the county’s Rock Spring industrial park.)

Considering that she’s done this for years herself, does Bebe really care that Shannon Whitfield abused the law and took too much money from one family? Probably no more than he cares about her doing the same thing. Their goal is not to end this kind of behavior or to clean out corruption inside county government, their goals are keeping/gaining power and influence for themselves and their supporters.

Bebe Heiskell & Shannon Whitfield

Shannon Whitfield’s backers attempt to present him as the county’s “savior” from Heiskell’s abuses, but truthfully he’s the back side of the same coin, a man whose behavior and intentions resemble hers in many other ways:

  • Both candidates refuse to answer hard questions and often resort to attacking those who ask questions or raise concerns instead of addressing what was asked. Both candidates and/or their supporters have blocked citizens on social media or removed posts that deal with valid issues they prefer not to address.

  • Neither candidate has invested a penny into their own campaign, instead drawing a large amount of support from companies that want to (or already) do business with the county – many located out of state.

  • Both have deep ties to the power structure in Chickamauga.

  • Both candidates’ campaign managers are in the insurance business: Bebe’s Rhonda Chandler is married to Mark Chandler, who makes a nice living handling disability and life insurance policies for county employees. Whitfield’s campaign manager Bobby Teems, along with his brother Billy, owns an insurance company that could stand to benefit by tens of thousands of dollars a year if that business is switched to them.

  • Both candidates have rewarded (or promised to reward) backers with made-up jobs: Bebe has created positions at Mountain Cove Farms for people who helped her in 2012 and 2013. Whitfield has promised to create “advisory boards” filled with his Team of backers and donors.

  • Bebe Heiskell and Shannon Whitfield have both used creative interpretions of the law to skirt rules prohibiting nepotism: Heiskell says she can hire relatives to work for the county because she isn’t their direct supervisor. Whitfield says once he takes office he can legally do business with Whitfield Oil Company because he doesn’t own the company, his Daddy does.

  • While both have said they support the people’s right to vote, both have said they personally prefer the sole commissioner system or at least see no advantage of having a board instead of a dictator.

Whitfield’s similarities to Heiskell make it surprising that all too many in the county who have condemned her for being ethically bereft have decided to support him.

If Shannon is pushing the boundaries of ethics now, will he get better after taking office? Will the things he ignored Bebe doing before 2015 be ignored in his own administration?

Will his supporters, who overlook his shortcomings now, suddenly hold him to a higher standard after he takes power and shares some of it with them? Or will they keep their mouths shut for as long as it benefits them for him to be commissioner?

All too many have turned a blind eye to how Shannon Whitfield operates and what he stands for, for the greater good of beating Bebe. But why does it matter if he beats Bebe if he’s going to imitate her? Can he clean up the county when he’s covered in dirt himself, when his own finances are closely tied into the county’s spending? Is his real reason for not wanting a forensic audit done of the county’s books because of what else involving him such an investigation might find?

Shannon Whitfield’s ethics and motives so resemble Heiskell’s that most Walker County voters will never see a difference if he becomes commissioner.

Fortunately there is a THIRD option on the Commissioner ballot, one whose name isn’t Whitfield OR Heiskell.

    “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” -Matthew 7:3-5, NIV
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3 comments so far

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  1. Bebe or Shannon? Walker County GA’s losing streak continues……
    Bed things happen to (the few) Good People of this once beautiful County.

  2. It’s said that no people get leadership worse than what they deserve. I believe that to be true.

    If Bebe keeps her job, or Whitfield gets it and runs it the same way she has, the blame falls on all of us. Every citizen. The way we vote, the way we think and live… That’s what causes this. Until that changes, we’ll never really do any better.

    — LU

  3. Be sure to tune in next week for “As the Cesspool Bubbles”….. People need to soooo get over themselves and just admit “hey, i was wrong”…..