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Georgia State Senator Jeff Mullis recognizes Valerine King while in the Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School gymnasium on May 14, 2014, for placing first in a National Academic Decathalon held in Hawaii.

Fast fact


Georgia counties with sole commissioner governments:
* Bartow
* Bleckley
* Chattooga
* Murray
* Pickens
* Pulaski
* Towns
* Union
* Walker

Despite 1,800 signatures, Georgia state Sen. Jeff Mullis is not interested in a petition to alter Walker County's form of government.

A group of bloggers for The LaFayette Underground website created the Change.org petition in September, when Commissioner Bebe Heiskell raised property taxes to offset millions of dollars in budget shortfalls. The petition asked Mullis to initiate legislation to allow residents to vote on whether they want Walker County to continue to operate under the direction of one elected official.

Walker County is one of nine local governments in the nation, all of them in Georgia, with a sole commissioner form of government. But Mullis, R-Chickamauga, said Heiskell's critics are a vocal minority who have never met with him in person.

"I haven't seen anybody Nov. 1," he said, referring to the date when the group's leaders were supposedly going to present the petition. "I haven't seen anybody Dec. 1. I haven't seen anybody Jan. 1. The majority of the people in the county are not for it."

Mullis added: "In 15 years in office, I've talked to 10, 12 people about [the sole commissioner form of government]. In 15 years. Does that sound like a mandate to you? Does that sound like a large, grassroots movement to you? Not me. Not one [of the petitioners] has had the decency, the courage to sit down with any of us in the Senate delegation."

To change a local government's structure, the state representatives in that area have to propose a bill in the Legislature, said Amy Henderson, spokeswoman for the Georgia Municipal Association. In this case, Mullis, Rep. John Deffenbaugh and Rep. Steve Tarvin would have to write a bill that puts the issue on Walker County's ballots.

A spokesperson on the LaFayette Underground's Facebook page, who did not provide his or her name, said the group plans to give the petition to Mullis this week. The spokesperson said nobody presented it to the senator earlier because the group thought he received it online.

The spokesperson said Mullis should take the 1,800 signatures seriously.

"All Senator Mullis is asked to do is put the issue on the ballot this fall, via legislation, so the people of Walker County can decide one way or the other what form of government they desire," the spokesperson said before alluding to "Tanja's Law," a bill that Mullis wrote that would punish police dog killers for second-degree murder. "There's been no thousand people asking him for a bill making the killing of a police dog the equivalent of killing a child."

Heiskell said she has not followed the petition but doesn't think the group gained enough signatures to force a vote on the ballot.

"I haven't honestly thought too much about it," she said. "My life is an adventure. I don't know if it's a good one or a bad one."

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at tjett@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6476.

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