LAFAYETTE, Ga. — Asked whether he's secretly working for his family business, Walker County Commissioner Shannon Whitfield laughed Thursday night.
"Oh gosh," he said after his commission meeting. "When would I have time to do that?"
But earlier this week, at a Walker County Tea Party meeting, some key members of his former campaign team made that allegation. Mike Cameron pointed out that the commissioner is listed as the CFO of Whitfield Oil in this year's business filing, even though he took office Jan. 1. Dean Kelley, meanwhile, said he knew of a woman fired from the company that had seen Whitfield working there.
On Thursday, Whitfield said he works 60 to 70 hours a week as the county commissioner but is still listed as an officer of the company in case of emergency. If his father, who is 74, fell ill and couldn't work any longer, Whitfield would be able to step in as a leader of the company. He doesn't plan to return to the company during his term as commissioner, which runs through 2020.
He declined to speculate about what he would do if his father could no longer work the next three years, saying his dad is in good health.
"I've taken a leave from there," Whitfield said. "And you can ask anyone here: I'm here all the time."
Within months of taking office, the commissioner fell out of favor with key members of his campaign team. At the Tea Party meeting Tuesday, former campaign manager Bobby Teems also criticized Whitfield for never unveiling a 30-, 60- or 90-day plan, as well as the property tax abatement he has promised for a resort on Lookout Mountain.
Teems declined to comment for this story. But Whitfield said his relationship with Teems fractured because he wouldn't listen to his campaign manager's suggestions. He said Teems wanted him to fire Economic Development Director Larry Brooks, as well as a maintenance worker who used to be the boss of Teems' son.
He said he also rebuffed Teems' request for a job in his administration.
"Bobby's just bitter at me because I'm not his puppet," he said. "He wants to be the political puppet master. We've got too many other important issues and things that we've got to work on for me to play the political game. I just don't have time. I go at this 110 percent every single day."
Cameron also criticized Whitfield at the Tea Party meeting for turning down early invitations to meet with Erlanger Health Center executives. In the weeks after his election in November, CEO Kevin Spiegel tried to set up a meeting with Whitfield about the county's $8.7 million debt to Erlanger.
Whitfield declined the meeting, saying he wanted to wait until he took office Jan. 1. He said he believed Spiegel might be meeting with then-Commissioner Bebe Heiskell, trying to see which politician would cut him a better deal.
He doesn't think Spiegel would have cut him a break just for meeting with him in November. Cameron disagrees. He thinks the two sides could have built a professional relationship, with Spiegel giving Walker County several years to pay back the debt.
"There wasn't any reason we couldn't just sit down and talk to them and just build a relationship," Cameron said. "Long term, it would benefit both sides if we can get along."
Contact Staff Writer Tyler Jett at 423-7576476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.