A photo has surfaced on Facebook showing Chickamauga, Ga., City Manager John Culpepper placing campaign signs for Walker County Commissioner Bebe Heiskell on the lawn of the city-owned Gordon-Lee Mansion on Oct. 2 before a Heiskell fundraiser there.
The Facebook page, which is highly critical of Heiskell and other incumbent Walker County elected officials, questions the legality of Culpepper's action -- which he fully admits doing.
"Guilty as charged. I'm not going to deny it," Culpepper said Wednesday. "I was on the job, I was in a city truck, I was on city time."
Culpepper supports Heiskell's bid for a fourth term.
"I feel like she's the best person for Chickamauga," Culpepper said. "She's dedicated to her job. She's a good people person. She's just excellent at what she's doing."
Heiskell said that she rented the chapel section of the mansion for a fundraiser and that rental charge covered having the city place the campaign signs out front.
Chickamauga Mayor Ray Crowder doesn't have any objections to Culpepper's action, and two officials at statewide organizations have different takes on its propriety and legality.
"It's not an issue," Crowder said. "The only complaint that we've seen was what was on Facebook."
"He was just putting them up there so people could see where to go," Crowder said.
Georgia Municipal Association spokeswoman Amy Henderson doesn't believe Culpepper broke any laws.
"There isn't any state law that prohibits that," she said. "It would be different if he were doing it for somebody on the City Council. It's still pretty ill-advised to campaign for somebody on the clock, but as for illegal? No."
William Perry, executive director of Common Cause Georgia, a nonprofit election and campaign reform group, disagreed.
"You can't use any public resources for campaigning for yourself or anyone else," he said. "It's really clear-cut."
"The issue of renting the facility does muddy the water," he said. "If the signs were put up and only remained up during the event, and this is something that's done for anyone renting the facility, then that is different."
Holly LaBerge, head of the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday. Neither could Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit District Attorney Buzz Franklin; Chickamauga City Attorney James Bisson; or Ales Campbell, the write-in candidate for Heiskell's seat.
Culpepper, who's been city manager for four decades, said, "I just made the decision on my own. Was it the correct decision as far as ethics and all that stuff? Probably not.
"I'll let the citizens of Chickamauga deal with me. That's who I work for," he said. "After 40 years, I think I have done a good job."
Tim Omarzu covers Catoosa and Walker counties for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California. Stories he's covered include crime in blighted parts of metro Detroit and Reno, Nev.; environmental activists tree-sitting in California's Sierra Nevada foothills; attempts by the Michigan Militia to take over a township¹s government in northern Michigan. A native of Michigan, ...