Harper Valley Honey Hangs It Up
Guilford County Commissioner Linda Shaw is calling it quits as a commissioner at the end of this year, after 16 years on the board. Shaw will leave the District 3 seat that represents much of northwest Guilford County – and two candidates have already jumped in the race to fill that seat.
Shaw, 73, served as chairman of the Board of Commissioners in 2013, and she experienced back trouble and knee problems during that time. However, she said this week that her decision to step down as a commissioner wasn’t related to any health issues.
“I feel better now than I have in 10 or 15 years,” Shaw said, adding, “I plan to live to 100.”
She said she’d been involved in the Republican Party her whole life and had served as a commissioner since 1998. Shaw said she simply felt as though now was the right time to step down and slow down.
“I’ve given 52 years to the Republican Party, and I think it’s time I gave my last few years to Linda,” she said.
Shaw said there are things about being a commissioner she’ll miss, but she added that she also likes the idea of having more time to herself.
“I’ll no longer have to worry about missing a meeting,” Shaw said.
Over the years, Shaw worked for conservative causes alongside her husband, Bob Shaw, who died in April 2012 at the age of 87. Bob Shaw served as a Guilford County commissioner as well, before he was elected to the state Senate, where he served from 1984 until 2002. For some of that time, he was the Senate minority leader.
Linda Shaw said that, at first, when she met Bob, she didn’t like him at all, but eventually the two hit it off. It was obvious to all her friends and associates that her husband’s death in 2012 was a very big blow to her.
Together the couple ran the Friendly Road Inn, a seafood restaurant that was popular for decades with Greensboro diners, as well as with many who made road trips from neighboring towns to eat at the local landmark, which closed in 2006 and was later destroyed by a fire.
Shaw hasn’t always had an easy time on the Board of Commissioners. Over the years, she’s been in major spats with Democrats and Republicans alike.
About a decade ago, Shaw had a very heated confrontation with former Democratic Guilford County Commissioner Skip Alston, who went on to become chairman of the board five times. That battle went to court before Alston and Shaw made nice and ended their feud. In 2012, Shaw served as vice chairman under Alston.
Shaw and Democratic Commissioner Carolyn Coleman have engaged in quite a few angry exchanges over the years as well, but Shaw has also had conflicts with Republicans, both on and off the board. Shaw and former County Commissioner Billy Yow sometimes had intense verbal exchanges, and Shaw has drawn criticism from area conservatives who especially haven’t appreciated Shaw casting votes in support of economic incentives for wealthy corporations. In some cases, it was Shaw’s vote that gave Democrats the final vote they needed to pass an incentives request.
Shaw said she’s happy to step away from the political battles that come with being a commissioner, and she added that she developed a thick skin a long time ago because criticism started coming with her very first major vote on the board.
“It was 1999 and we voted to put $200 million in school bonds on the ballot,” Shaw said.
Shaw said the vitriol she saw after casting that vote was particularly intense because the referendum wouldn’t have gone on the ballot without her vote. The Republicans on the board, with the exception of Shaw, voted against the move. The $200 million school bond referendum was eventually approved by voters.
Shaw said this week that she had no regrets about that vote – even though she took a great deal of flack for it. She said that, at that time, Guilford County desperately needed new schools.
“We had not built a new school in 27 years,” Shaw said.
The school system actually did build Pilot Elementary School in 1996, but other than that it had been about two decades since a public school had been built.
Shaw went on to reel off a list of some of the highly popular schools that were built in Guilford County as a result of that bond referendum.
Shaw added that she felt vindicated when 64 percent of the public voted in 2000 to approve the referendum.
Shaw said she felt the same way about the economic incentives that she had helped pass in recent years. She said incentives are needed to bring in jobs to the county, and she added that she’ll always choose to support jobs and economic growth.
Shaw also said she’s proud that, with one exception, she’s never voted for a tax increase. At one point years ago, when the Democrats controlled the board, Shaw voted for a small tax increase that was intended to stave off a much larger increase proposed by the Democratic majority.
She said the move was one made with former Guilford County Commissioner Trudy Wade, now the state senator representing District 27. According to Shaw, the two women proposed the small tax increase as a compromise to keep taxes from jumping much higher. However, Shaw said, the move got no other support among commissioners.
When asked what she has enjoyed most about being a commissioner, Shaw said, “It’s being able to help people.” She said nothing pleases her more than when a constituent comes to her with a problem she can help solve.
When asked what she liked least about being a commissioner, she laughed and said, “The reporters.”
Shaw said that last year as chairman was very gratifying but at first, right after being elected to that seat, she wondered why she had jumped into that fire. She became chairman in December 2012, and, shortly after that, the county manager retired along with many key department heads – and that mass exit was followed by the departure of the assistant county manager who was then interim county manager.
Shaw said that at first she thought, “Oh my gosh, what have I gotten myself into?”
Shaw chairs the Guilford County Animal Welfare Committee and, in recent years, that committee has pushed through several ordinance changes meant to protect the county’s dogs – including stricter laws on “puppy mills” and a new ordinance last year that bans tethering dogs while they’re unattended.
“I’m proud of the work of that committee,” Shaw said.
As for her future plans, she said, “Maybe I’ll write a book.”
Now that she’s stepping down, Shaw spoke openly with the Rhino Times about a fascinating hidden chapter in her life when she lived in Tennessee.
Shaw got an early start in life in high-profile elected positions when, at the age of 26, she was elected to serve as president of a PTA in Nashville. Normally, PTA president isn’t something that counts as a high-profile job. However, while Shaw was serving in that capacity in 1968, it became one of the highest profile positions in the country: At that time, the hit song Harper Valley PTA, written by Tom T. Hall and sung by Jeannie C. Riley, took the country by storm.
“I was living in Nashville, Tennessee, in the ’60s,” Shaw said. “When I lived there I was president of the Harpeth Valley PTA, on which the song was based.”
“Tom T. Hall lived a few blocks away,” Shaw said of the songwriter.
The giant hit, Harper Valley PTA, is the story of a mother who wears her skirts too short and perhaps drinks too much, and who gets a note from the PTA rebuking her actions. In the song, the woman goes to a meeting and calls out the PTA members on their hypocrisy, and the daughter recounts, “the day my momma socked it to the Harper Valley PTA.”
Shaw said that, when the song became a hit, her phone was ringing off the hook from reporters calling.
“I got calls from all over the country,” she said. “They would ask, ‘What do you think of the song?’”
Shaw said that, at that time she wore some short skirts, but hers weren’t too short she said, adding that they generally fell just above the knees.
Shaw said she has a lot of friends in the Nashville area that she talks to on the phone but hasn’t seen in years and years. After she steps down from the Guilford County Board of Commissioners in December, she said, she’d like to visit Nashville and spend time with them.
Shaw also said that she lived a year in Woodstock, Ontario, and she’d also like to go back to that area and meet up with the friends she made at that time in her life. The lifelong Republican was quick to point out that it was Woodstock in Canada, and not the Woodstock in upstate New York, which was home to the free-love, dope-smoking, acid-dropping, anything-goes concert of 1969.
While Shaw prepares to reconnect with old friends, others in the county are gearing up to take her place on the board. Immediately after she announced that she wasn’t running for her seat, two Republicans made it known they wanted to take her place on the board – former Greensboro City Councilmember Danny Thompson and President of Libby Hill Seafood Justin Conrad.
Thompson told the Rhino Times this week that he wouldn’t have run for the District 3 commissioners seat this year if Shaw had decided to run again. However, Conrad said he was planning to run either way.
It’s not known if a Democratic challenger for that seat will emerge.
The district underwent major changes in 2012 as part of redistricting, but is still thought to be a Republican one – which is the way the district has voted for years.
On Friday, Jan. 24, Conrad said he was busy celebrating the fact that his father, Ken Conrad, had been named as the 2014 chairman of the National Restaurant Association, a tremendous honor, when Shaw announced she wouldn’t run for reelection. So it was probably a good day all around for Justin Conrad.
Currently, Conrad serves as chairman of the Guilford County Board of Public Health. He said that overseeing one of the county’s largest departments has given him experience that will be helpful if he’s elected District 3 county commissioner.
Conrad said the winner of the Republican primary in that race should win the seat, with emphasis on the “should,” since nothing in political races is a given.
“It’s a Republican-leaning district,” Conrad said.
Thompson said he’d been in conversations with Shaw because he was interested in pursuing the seat, but he didn’t want to run against her. He said he had told her that as well a few weeks earlier and had asked her what her plans were.
“I said I’d like to run, but I don’t want to run against you, and she said, ‘I haven’t made my mind up,’” Thompson said.
On Friday afternoon, Jan. 24, right after Shaw sent out her announcement to members of the media, she let Thompson know she wasn’t running again.
Thompson said he now hopes to win the seat so he can reduce taxes, among other goals.
“As a business owner, I think I have the ability to run a tight fiscal ship,” Thompson said.
Shaw isn’t the only longtime commissioner who’ll be leaving the board in December. District 1 Commissioner Bruce Davis is running for the 6th Congressional District seat now held by Howard Coble, so Davis won’t be able to reclaim his commissioners seat, which leaves it up for grabs in 2014.
Davis said he’ll miss working with Shaw, even though the two haven’t always seen eye to eye.
“In the beginning it was a little rocky,” Davis said, chuckling. “But I admire the way Linda can support her position without compromising her principles.”
Davis was also complimentary of Shaw’s time as chairman and the way the board evolved in 2013. He said her leadership played a big role in helping all the commissioners behave in a civil manner.
“As chairman, we watched her grow into that position,” Davis said.
Davis, who became a Guilford County commissioner in 2002, said of his own decision to step down from the board, that he just felt it was time. He added that it was “bittersweet.”
“I’d like to move forward to the next chapter of my life,” Davis said. “Certainly I hope to be walking through the halls of Congress.”
Davis said of being a commissioner for a long time: “You can do this job for 30 or 40 years and, if you get a gold watch, you go to jail for taking it.”
BY Scott D. Yost
January 30, 2014
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