Shaw hopes to become last sole commissioner

Shaw hopes to become last sole commissioner

May 10th, 2012 by Mike O'Neal in Local Regional News

Retired physician Paul Shaw, 68, is quick to cite several reasons he intends to challenge Bebe Heiskell in the July 31 GOP primary to serve as sole commissioner for Walker County.

Foremost among them is a desire to change local government from how it now operates with a single elected commissioner to one governed by a five-member board of commissioners.

"I'd like to be the last sole commissioner," Shaw said, saying the matter would be put to a public referendum after he is in office for two years. "We have 67,000 people, that's a lot for one person to be responsible for. With a $21 million budget, that's a lot for one person to be able to write checks without any checks and balances. I wouldn't even trust myself with that much power."

The state legislature, not the commissioner, decides whether or not a vote on changing local government can move forward, but Shaw said that if elected he would ask for such a referendum.

"This is an antiquated system that is ripe for change," he said. "It isn't representative of all the people."

Shaw also questions what he perceives as a "lack of transparency" in how county government operates, saying it seems things are decided without any public discussion or debate.

"People don't feel they have any input," he said. "I'd hold public meetings once a month to hear opinions and answer questions. And I'd build a panel of experts, all volunteers, to offer advice to the commissioner or commissioners."

Since publicly stating his intention last fall to unseat Heiskell, Shaw has raised questions about the county's financial health.

"No one seems willing to step up and ask why are we so far in debt," Shaw said. "The commissioner was elected and said she'd get us out of a $5 million debt - she did, now it's $42 million."

Shaw's reference is to Walker County's voters adopting a special purpose local option sales tax to fund capital projects countywide. When SPLOST passes, bonds are issued in an amount to be repaid over the term of the SPLOST. The process is similar to a mortgage or loan with payments to be met with monthly sales tax collections.

Rather than operate with credit, Shaw proposes the county begin paying down its debt and retiring its bonds, rather than using the money for capital improvements such as building roads or bridges, buying fire engines or patrol cars and adding to the county's recreational and industrial sites.

Shaw said he disagrees with Heiskell's support of the upcoming Transportation Investment Act Regional SPLOST, more commonly called TSPLOST, that would collect another one percent tax on retail sales. He said he fears TSPLOST's revenue will be controlled by the Georgia Department of Transportation and legislators in Atlanta, and furthermore said he is opposed to funding government programs based on revenue projections.

Walker, along with Bartow, Catoosa, Chattooga, Dade, Fannin, Floyd, Gilmer, Gordon, Haralson, Murray, Paulding, Pickens, Polk and Whitfield counties, is part of the Regional Planning Commission's Region 1. If passed by a majority of voters in the 15-county region, TSPLOST would be collected for 10 years and divided among the counties using a formula based on each county's population and miles of paved roads.

How this revenue pool would be spent would be determined by a roundtable composed of representatives from each county and its largest city.

Projections are that Walker County would receive about $37.7 million to spend on projects on a predetermined TSPLOST list as well as discretionary funds to apply to local projects.

Regions that adopt TSPLOST are required to pay 10 percent of the cost for GDOT projects; those that do not adopt TSPLOST must pay 30 percent of their costs.

"I'm not a big fan of these taxes. I like debits and credits to balance," Shaw said. "I never wanted to run for office, but I started being concerned before I retired that the county was getting into the real estate business.

"We were buying land for industrial parks but business wasn't coming. Something wasn't right."