Since taking office four weeks ago, what’s new commissioner Shannon Whitfield been up to?
He’s hired and fired a few county employees, created two new positions inside his office, tried to move meetings to an illegal location, found the county’s got a lot of debt (dur), and took out a Bebe-esque loan backed by next year’s tax revenues.
Gone are ex-convict county attorney Don Oliver and his assistant (replaced with a $125-per-hour lawyer on call), 911 director David Ashburn (replaced by Blake Hodge), County Clerk Bridget Garrett (replaced by Becky Wooden) and a number of lower level county employees who left with Heiskell or retired and weren’t replaced.
Whitfield hired Goodwill retiree Sharleen Robinson for a new position handling human resources. That’s a good move, because Waker County is in a bad place with employee training, benefits, and pay. It’s going to take a real expert to sort that out, and Robinson may be the expert we need. It’s a high paying job that should save money in the long run.
Less clearly needed is a county Public Relations person. Whitfield appointed Channel 12 anchor Joe Legge to be his “PR” guy – basically a poop polisher, a new job to make the Commissioner look good in the media and communicate with the voters – something Shannon apparently has trouble with on his own.
Legge seems well qualified for that role, but what we’ll be paying him to write press releases and post on the county Web site would do a good bit of road work.
An early statement from Whitfield said he would be moving commissioner meetings to the Civic Center, making them easier for his supporters in North Walker to access (and a bit harder for those of us in LaFayette.)
Turns out that’s against state law, and he has to have commissioner meetings where they’ve always been: in the commissioner’s office.
WQCH Radio, 01/23/17: “WALKER COUNTY COMMISSIONER SHANNON WHITFIELD SAID HE MADE A ‘ROOKIE MISTAKE’ IN SAYING EARLY-ON THAT HIS MEETINGS WOULD BE HELD AT THE WALKER COUNTY CIVIC CENTER IN ROCK SPRING. HE SINCE LEARNED THAT BY LAW, THE REGULAR BUSINESS MEETINGS OF COUNTY GOVERNMENT MUST BE HELD IN THE COUNTY SEAT: LAFAYETTE.”
Now the Commissioner is looking for a waiver to hold them in the LaFayette library where there’s more space, which seems like a better idea than the Civic Center.
As for moving meetings to the evening as promised during the campaign, Whitfield DID set his official schedule for Thursday evenings every-other week. But his first actual meeting was “special,” called on short notice and held on a Tuesday afternoon.
Whitfield defeated Bebe Heiskell’s apparent plan to create a job for herself at the Water & Sewer Authority by pushing John “Damn Fine Job” Culpepper off that board to make a seat for himself. (Turns out Culpepper would have been done in May anyway, but it’s a small victory.)
Whitfield also did something he and many others (including LU) have criticized his predecessor for: took out a loan to pay this year’s bills, which will be repaid with next year’s tax revenue.
To his defense, Heiskell already blew through most of this year’s money and didn’t leave many options other than another loan – but if she was still commissioner, he’d certainly be attacking her for doing the same thing.
At least this year’s loan will be a lower rate through the Bank of LaFayette, but the taxes we paid in December are gone and next December’s are mostly committed to paying back this loan – unless he raises taxes. Which he most certainly will have to do.
Whitfield can complain about the condition Bebe left the county in, but he’s got little room to talk considering how he backed her politically until mid-2015 and refused several opportunities to help bring sole commissioner government to an end.
He can point fingers but he bears much of the blame for this, as does anyone else who supported Heiskell beyond the point where reasonable people saw how terrible she was.
Investigators have officially determined Candace Hankins was pregnant at the time of her death, so alleged killer David Ryan Walker now faces an additional charge of feticide.
As yet there are no theories about his motive in allegedly killing her (and his unborn child). Results of his drug tests, and drug tests performed on Hankins’ remains, won’t be back for months.
Walker has been behind bars since the murder occurred on January 15th.
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