November 15, 2012
Despite objections by some Republicans in the county, when the Guilford County
commissioners are sworn in on Monday, Dec. 3, Commissioner Linda Shaw is likely to be elected chairman of the board. Shaw certainly has the inside track right now, and the same deal expected to make Shaw chairman is expected to make Commissioner Bill Bencini vice-chairman.
That would be the first time in 14 years the board has elected a Republican chairman.
Republican leadership on the Board of Commissioners is just one more sign that it's a new world order when it comes to the board: On Tuesday, Nov. 6, the election of three new Republican commissioners gave the Republicans a majority on the board for only the second time in 20 years.
This week, before speaking with the new Republican commissioners about her desire to be chairman, Shaw said she believed that she had the votes necessary to win the seat. She said she also believed Bencini would be vice chairman. Shaw said that on Friday, Nov. 8, she had lunch with Bencini and the two discussed the arrangement, which was made without consulting their fellow Republican commissioners.
That meeting between Shaw and Bencini was followed on Tuesday, Nov. 13, by a meeting of the next board's five Republican commissioners to discuss the party leadership and other matters pertaining to the new Republican-led board. After that meeting, Shaw reiterated that she believed she had the votes to take the chairmanship, and she added that her hope was that she would win the seat on a unanimous bipartisan vote. Shaw seemed convinced that she had the votes necessary even without Republican support other than Bencini.
Shaw said she would be working hard over the next few weeks to get up to speed on the rules of running a meeting.
"I need to get a copy of Robert's Rules of Order," Shaw said, who has served on the board for 14 years.
One of the duties of a vice chairman is to run meetings if the chairman is absent, and she's been vice chairman for a year now – though with the Guilford County
Board of Commissioners, it's very rare that a chairman is absent from meetings so it's difficult to know how proficient Shaw is at running meetings.
Outgoing Republican Commissioner Billy Yow, who's clashed with Shaw on many matters in recent years, said Shaw has a lot of convincing to do if she's going to earn the support of Republicans on the board and in the county. Yow said Shaw has consistently been too willing to vote with the Democrats – and especially been too eager to go along with Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Skip Alston.
"If you look at Linda's record," Yow said, "everything she's done has been with Skip and the Democrats."
Yow said Shaw helped Alston keep Guilford County
Manager Brenda Jones Fox as county manager despite countless underhanded actions by Fox, and Shaw also voted with Alston to move forward on a hastily conceived rezoning of the Guilford County
Prison Farm that the Guilford County
Planning Board later shot down. Yow said he could cite countless examples of Shaw siding with Alston and the Democrats.
"She's done that many times," Yow said. "There are times that I would approach her with good logic but her mind was made up."
Yow said Shaw had rounded up her votes for becoming chairman by going to the Democrats on the board – rather than first, as she should have done, approaching the Republicans.
"The Republicans took control of Guilford County
in the election and she still hasn't figured that out," Yow said.
He said the first conversations Shaw should have had on the chairmanship should have been with the other four Republicans on the board – not with the Democrats.
Yow said it's wise for the group to meet in private now and discuss that and other issues, since three of the Republicans aren't commissioners yet. Right now, they aren't subject to open meetings law, which, after Dec. 3, will prevent the five Republican commissioners from legally getting together in private and discussing county business.
Like Yow, some other Republicans in the county have been critical of Shaw for siding with Alston and the Democrats and, when Shaw ran for reelection two years ago, that was a primary line of attack used by her political foes.
Shaw said she has heard the criticism of being too close to Alston and the Democrats before, and she said she even took some jabs for appearing in a photograph with Alston last week in The Rhinoceros Times in a spread of election night photos.
Shaw is fond of saying that, when she hears this line of criticism, what she wants to ask is how people know that it is not in fact Alston voting with her, rather than the other way around.
When told of Yow's remarks, Shaw said Yow was one to talk. She said Yow was a registered Democrat before he chose to run for county commissioner in 2000, and she said he only changed his registration to Republican so he could win in that conservative district. Shaw added that Yow gave a $500 campaign contribution to Democratic Commissioner Paul Gibson this year, who was running against Republican candidate Jeff Phillips. She said that she, on the other hand, didn't give one penny to a Democratic candidate.
"I rest my case," Shaw said.
Shaw said she had always intended to meet with Republicans and seek their support. It would be possible for her to win with just the four Democratic votes – but it just so happened, she said, that she had contacted Bencini and several Democratic commissioners first about her quest for the chairmanship. She said it would disappoint her greatly if she didn't get a good deal of support from Republican commissioners as well.
Shaw said one reason she didn't contact the new commissioners on the board in the beginning is that she did not have their phone numbers at the time.
Four new members of the Guilford County
Board of Commissioners will be sworn in on Dec. 3 when the new nine-member board takes control of the county. For the last 20 years, Guilford County
's board, with 11 members, has been the largest board of commissioners in the state and, as intended, it has highly favored Democrats.
The district lines of that board were enacted by a Democratic state legislature in 1991 – and, for all but two of the last 20 years, the Guilford County
board has had a Democratic majority.
When Republicans took control in Raleigh in 2010, redistricting efforts began, and the new district lines were drawn by President Pro Tem of the NC Senate Phil Berger. However, that happened only after Alston, a Democrat, had drawn up district lines that favored the Democrats.
The Republican plan to redraw the district lines in Guilford County
in a way that would negate the long-standing Democratic advantage was obviously a success: The Nov. 6 election saw the ousting of two well-known long-time Democratic commissioners – Gibson and Kirk Perkins – as well as the defeat of another Democrat, Linda Kellerman, who was beaten by Republican Hank Henning.
One irony of the current situation is that, before Perkins and Gibson lost, the prevailing wisdom was that the two of them would fight it out to be the next chairman of the board. And, if only one of those two Democratic commissioners had won their election, that victor likely had an inside track to becoming chairman. ...continued on page 2