Former Walker County Sole Commissioner Bebe Heiskell signed a separation notice for one of her employees, who also happened to be her granddaughter.
Problem is, Heiskell signed the document Jan. 20, three weeks after she left office.
The notice would enable her granddaughter, Morgan Stamey, to collect unemployment benefits. Under "circumstances of the separation," Heiskell told the Georgia Department of Labor the "new administration did not need Ms. Stamey."
But new Commissioner Shannon Whitfield blocked Heiskell's maneuver, according to records obtained this week by the Times Free Press. Whitfield told a Department of Labor representative he had not fired Stamey. He said she simply quit and called Heiskell's separation notice "fraudulent."
"She should have never had a document that stated 'lack of work,'" Whitfield said. "Bebe should not have been signing documents in January 2017, stating that she was sole commissioner."
At first, the Department of Labor awarded Stamey about $4,600 over 14 weeks, which would have come from the county because the local government is self-insured for unemployment benefits, Whitfield said. But about two weeks after Heiskell signed the separation notice, Whitfield objected.
The Department of Labor held a hearing on the issue Feb. 24 and sided with Whitfield in a decision published March 6.
"[Stamey] became unemployed when she stopped reporting to work," Anthony Bond, a hearing officer for the agency, wrote in his report. "Work was available. The claimant, as a reasonable person, should have been aware that her actions would result in job abandonment."
Heiskell did not return multiple calls seeking comment, and a listed phone number for Stamey no longer belongs to her.
Stamey began working for the county in April 2009, according to her personnel file. She started as a receptionist at the Walker County Civic Center and later became the civic center's assistant director, as well as an associate for the Northwest Georgia Joint Development Authority.
In January 2012, she became the assistant director of Mountain Cove Properties and the Curator for County Interiors. Most recently, according to Department of Labor filings, she earned a $40,000 salary as a county event coordinator, based at Mountain Cove Farms.
In his letter to the Department of Labor, Whitfield wrote that other Mountain Cove Farms employees reported Stamey only worked four to six times in 2016. He also said she didn't show up to work beyond mid-November, after Whitfield defeated Heiskell in the election.
In mid-January, Whitfield said, Heiskell called the county's payroll clerk and told her she needed to pay Stamey through the first week of the year. She also allegedly wanted a check for two weeks of vacation. Whitfield declined the request. He said Stamey then called the office, and he informed her the county would not pay her for any work in 2017.
That's when Heiskell filled out the separation notice.
The $4,600 check to Stamey would have been almost nothing for the local government: about 0.01 percent of the county's annual budget. But Whitfield said it still mattered. In January, he said, the county had about $850,000 in the bank and $3.5 million in past-due bills.
"That [$4,600] would help me pay about three light bills in January that I had to borrow money to pay," he said. "Four thousand dollars is a lot of money when the county is struggling financially."
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.