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Bebe Heiskell
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Screenshot of Bebe Heiskell's exchange with Shannon Whitfield on Facebook.
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Screenshot of Bebe Heiskell's exchange with Shannon Whitfield on Facebook.
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Shannon Whitfield

Differences in debt estimates

Whitfield’s estimate

Base debt: $53.2 million

Plus: $10 million to Erlanger

Plus: $15 million Development Authority bond

Heiskell’s estimate

Base: $32.5 million

Excludes: Debt to Erlanger*

Excludes: Development Authority bond**

Excludes: $4 million landfill closure debt

Excludes: $3 million pension liability

* U.S. District Court judge ruled Walker County owes Erlanger $8.7 million, plus (maybe) attorneys’ fees. Walker County has appealed.

** Heiskell said this is covered with a 1-mill property tax

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Perry Lamb

Walker County, Ga., Commissioner Bebe Heiskell's Facebook page on Friday accused her political opponent of cheating on his wife.

"I fully expected you to go back to your same old lying ways," a Facebook post from Heiskell's account read Friday morning, during a dispute with candidate Shannon Whitfield about how much debt the county had. "Just as you have been untruthful about your history be it business, school, and family."

The post continued: "You were being deceptive and know it. Juts [sic] as deceptive as you have been the last 20 years in your marriage. However, I will not stoop low enough to tell the people the truth about that."

Whitfield said Tuesday that he took the posts as an accusation of infidelity, which he called "totally a false accusation." Whitfield added that he confronted Heiskell about the Facebook post Friday morning, when they both attended a chamber of commerce luncheon at the county's Agricultural Center in Rock Spring.

Whitfield said Heiskell denied making the accusation before he showed her the Facebook posts on his phone. He said she then claimed that she wasn't the one authoring the posts, even though they came from her personal account.

Heiskell did not return a call or an email seeking comment, though in the Facebook post the author said that, unlike Whitfield, Heiskell did "not have all day to sit on Facebook going on."

"I do not know who's behind it," Whitfield said of the posts. "But Bebe is the candidate. She should be the lead of her campaign. She should be able to manage and control her campaign team."

Perry Lamb, who is also running for commissioner, criticized Heiskell — or whoever made the actual posts.

"That really is stooping to a level that unfortunately we have in politics," he said. "But to throw out accusations — whether it was Bebe, someone in her camp — that's just uncalled for."

Debt dispute: Heiskell and Whitfield have argued for months about just how much debt the county has. The most recent financial audit, which ran through Sept. 30, 2015, put the figure at $53.2 million.

But Whitfield has argued that debt is much higher, estimating it at about $80 million. During an appearance on UCTV last week, Heiskell said Whitfield has overinflated some of the numbers.

She said the total debt is around $32.5 million. And of that, about $10.4 million is "real debt" people need to worry about.

First, the "real debt" explanation: Of the money Walker County owes, Heiskell said, about $22.1 million comes from a loan the government took out in 2013. That was because residents approved a 1 cent sales tax. The revenue from that tax will be set aside to pay off the loan, so the county already has a plan for that payoff.

Next, the debate about the total debt: Whitfield's estimate is based primarily on three figures. The county's debt was at $53.2 million on Sept. 30, 2015. That figure does not include a potential payment of $10 million to Erlanger, plus a $15 million bond the Walker County Development Authority issued last year.

Heiskell's counter? The $53.2 million figure from last year is already lower because the county paid part of that debt. Plus, the $10 million to Erlanger is overblown. A judge ruled the county owes $8.7 million, and Walker County is trying to appeal that judge's ruling. (Though the $8.7 million figure could actually grow, depending on how a judge rules, because the county might have to pay some of Erlanger's attorney fees.)

Heiskell is not including the $15 million bond because the county is planning to pay that through property taxes.

Heiskell's estimate also does not include the $4 million the county has to pay for monitoring a closed landfill or a $3 million pension liability — arguing the latter issue won't really come up because not all the employees are going to retire at the same time.

During her appearance on UCTV, Heiskell chatted on the phone with a financial consultant from Atlanta named Bill Cox, who said Whitfield was lying to voters.

"He doesn't know how to count money," Cox said. "And he don't really know what he's doing."

The Times Free Press could not reach Cox for comment on this article: An Internet search did not pull up a financial adviser by that name in Atlanta. Heiskell also did not return an email asking how to find Cox, though she did send an email urging a reporter to watch Cox's analysis.

Lamb has argued that both his opponents in this election are manipulating the financial information to sway voters.

County fair: Whitfield criticized Heiskell for not letting candidates set up booths at the county fair at Mountain Cove Farms this weekend. Ed Bruce, a volunteer for Whitfield's campaign, said a receptionist in the county office informed him that no political candidates will be allowed to campaign at the event.

But Whitfield said Heiskell's campaign workers have put advertisements for the fair on top of her election signs on sides of roads.

"She's tying her campaign directly to the fair," he said.

Lamb said he also unsuccessfully tried to reserve a booth at this week's fair. He's not upset about the rejection, assuming Heiskell isn't campaigning there either.

"If nobody's allowed," he said, "that's OK. You know, I think it's a good place to get your message out. I don't know if it's political. I'm seeing that everything is political. Everyone's got something bad to say."

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.

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