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Bebe Heiskell
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Lonnie Henderson II
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Shannon Whitfield
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A pair of candidates have emerged to run against Walker County Commissioner Bebe Heiskell in next year's election.

Lonnie Henderson II, of LaFayette, and Shannon Whitfield, of Chickamauga, announced last week that they are pursuing the county's sole commissioner position. One of the candidates is positioning himself as the outsider, hoping to change the county. The other is touting his own political experience — and also hoping to change the county.

Whitfield, 45, has been a Chickamauga city councilman for two years. He has also served on boards for Communities in Schools, the Walker County Chamber of Commerce, the Chickamauga Library, the Cherokee Regional Library and the Chickamauga Planning Commission.

He said he hopes to cut about $1 million from the county's $23 million budget. In particular, he said the county is wasting money by operating Mountain Cove Farms, a destination resort. He also said the county's landfill and 911 center are operating at too great a loss.

Whitfield said he does not know specifically how to make those operations profitable. But, if elected, he said he would go through every arm of the county government and examine whether they are wasting any money.

He also said the county should cut its full-time county attorney position, instead hiring lawyers to handle specific cases as needed. The current attorney, Don Oliver, makes about $100,000 per year — not including bonuses that he receives for certain services, such as writing a bond issue for the county.

Whitfield said friends have asked him to run for the commissioner position since last year. At first, he resisted the idea.

"But in the end," he said, "our county is in such bad financial condition that I felt like I needed to step up."

Whitfield, who grew up in Walker County, said he respects Heiskell, who has been in office since 2001. He will challenge her in the Republican primary on May 24.

Henderson, meanwhile, has not decided whether to run as a Democrat or a Republican. He said he "historically" has not been affiliated with a party. In fact, he doesn't have any political experience.

"I think that would actually play more as a strength than a weakness," he said.

Henderson grew up in Summerville but moved to LaFayette in 2008 to work at Walker State Prison. He said he makes less than $30,000 per year and can empathize with the average county resident. He said he understands what it's like to be one medical emergency away from losing all your money.

"I don't believe in years that the people of Walker County have had anybody who represents their true interests," he said. "I don't believe we have a real representative of the people who struggles paycheck to paycheck."

Henderson said he wants to reduce the size of the local government, allow people to examine the budget before he passes it and hold meetings on the weekends so residents can attend. The county currently holds meetings at 3 p.m. on Thursdays. Heiskell says the afternoon meetings save the county money because employees don't have to work late into the night.

Henderson said the county should shift from a sole commissioner form of government to a multi-commissioner form of government.

Whitfield said the people should vote on the issue.

Contact Staff Writer Tyler Jett at tjett@times freepress.com or at 423-757-6476.

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