Trusty car-washing work draws scrutiny in Walker County

Trusty car-washing work draws scrutiny in Walker County

March 22nd, 2012 by Tim Omarzu in News

Grainy photos of a Walker County Jail trusty washing and detailing a county employee's van have touched off a flap and resulted in disciplinary measures.

Grainy photos of a Walker County Jail trusty...

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Walker County Commissioner Bebe Heiskell

Walker County Commissioner Bebe Heiskell

Grainy photos of a Walker County Jail trusty washing and detailing a county employee's van have touched off a flap and resulted in disciplinary measures.

A website critical of Sole Commissioner Bebe Heiskell published photos on March 15 of a county jail inmate scrubbing and vacuuming a van owned by Betty Keys, a county road department office employee whose duties include accounting work and answering calls.

The website alleges that Keys is Heiskell's campaign manager and that using an inmate to clean her van was unethical and possibly illegal.

"They don't know what the hell they're talking about," County Coordinator David Ashburn said Wednesday.

"She is not BeBe's campaign manager," Ashburn said, adding, "Does she support the commissioner? You bet. I do, too."

Ashburn said that after he saw the photo, taken at the Walker County road barn in Chickamauga, he asked Keys about it the first thing the next morning.

"She said, 'I did it,'" Ashburn said.

The trusty works two days a week at the road department and didn't have anything to do when Keys suggested that he wash her van.

"Hey, I'm bored. Can I do something?" is what Ashburn said the trusty asked Keys, to which she replied, "If you want to wash my car, you can."

"She had a moment of bad judgment," he said of Keys.

In Keys' defense, Ashburn said she regularly uses her van to drive to restaurants to buy lunch for jail trustys without being reimbursed for the cost of gasoline. The trustys' meals are paid for out of petty cash, he noted.

Keys has worked for 12 years for the county, never had received a written reprimand and often goes the extra mile -- including driving to work on snow days so she can field residents' calls at the road department, Ashburn said.

County Attorney Don Oliver said, "She's been disciplined quite heavily for the minor offense that it was," though he would not specify what discipline was administered.

"We treat that as a personnel matter," he said.

Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson said Wednesday, "Buzz Franklin, the district attorney, has made the decision that it does not rise to the level of a criminal act."

"We send out several work crews each day, and the agencies that participate have to sign and acknowledge they know the rules of what inmates can do and can't do," Wilson said. "I don't recall an incident where one's washed a vehicle before."