I know Bill Lashley. I don’t know him well, but I have spoken to him several times over the years. He’s always unfailingly polite and often complimentary when I have encountered him. He is engaging, doesn’t mind a laugh and is friendly to passersby the times I’ve watched him at Fourth Fridays in downtown Burlington. He’s frequently there and usually offers a joke on why I shouldn’t be eating the food truck delicacy I have in my hand at that particular moment.
And he’s usually correct. The man has had heart issues so he knows health dos and don’ts when it comes to diet.
But I’ve also seen Lashley, a longtime with some lapses, member of the Alamance County Board of Commissioners when he’s approached by school officials or discusses education issues, particularly funding — especially funding. When this occurs a Jekyll and Hyde transformation unfolds. He narrows his eyes, he develops a scowl and his voice raises an octave or three. It’s happened so often that his hatred for education and educators is obvious. His public squabbles with Alamance-Burlington Board of Education members and superintendents are the stuff of legend. In fact I have often thought that he must have had some awful experience in school as a kid — perhaps he was told to go outside and clap erasers together a few too may times. Who knows? Maybe he inhaled so much chalk dust in his formative years that it has impeded his ability to control his urge to lash out at things he doesn’t like very much. That constitutes a long list. He’s lashed out — no pun intended — verbally and / or physically at everyone from educators to county employees to liberals and immigration supporters. We even heard about a fight involving Lashley at a local gym about 10 years ago — but absolutely no one would talk about it for the record.
Lashley’s tendency to anger is a weird dynamic spawned often by his hatred of taxes. No one likes taxes but Lashley truly despises handing the government he’s elected to oversee enough operating money to run efficiently and see the county grow and prosper. So I get where he’s coming from even if I don’t agree with him. It’s the style I take issue with the most.
Lashley had another public eruption this week at Monday’s meeting of the Alamance County Board of Commissioners where a public hearing was held over whether to put multi-million bond referendums for the school system and Alamance Community College on the ballot for voters in November. A couple dozen people stepped forward endorsing the bonds — and one opposed. Commissioners then took turns speaking to the crowd before casting a vote. Lashley, who hadn’t spoken to that point, seemed to awaken with a start and said, “I support the school system 100 percent, but this school system — this administration is a disgrace.” Lashley then cast the only vote against placing the measure before county voters. He also predicted county voters would reject the $150 million referendum for a new high school and renovations to schools that are decades old — some built when Lashley himself was a child.
I would say that over years of watching Lashley vote and discuss education funding and other issues I would characterize his statement of 100 percent support on Monday as 100 percent bullshit.
That’s right, bullshit. One-hundred percent of it.
That felt good. Bullshit, now there’s something I could never write in the newspaper when I was editor of the Burlington Times-News. I know this because we historically presented such profanity like this “bull—-” as if no one could figure out what the word might actually be.
I must admit it’s very liberating to call something so obviously incorrect what it is. And the word, while profane and not very polite, is one with which Lashley is very familiar. He used it himself twice at a public meeting in August of 2017 in his role as a county commissioner. Talk about rude. He said it out loud to criticize fellow county commissioner Bob Byrd. Here’s how that exchange was reported in the Burlington Times-News at the time.
Byrd, after saying he would vote for the funds, talked about roots of criminal behavior like what he called adverse childhood events, which he learned about at a recent conference. Those including having a parent go to prison, and have been shown to significantly increase a child’s chances of going to prison as an adult. Byrd suggested some of the people being sent to federal prison could have been diverted if their schools were better supported and they had the right teachers and mentors.
“What a bunch of bull…,” Commissioner Bill Lashley said. “By what you’re saying and that bull… that you’re just spreading out, I should be in prison. I came from that background, and it’s a crock.”
So he certainly understands the proper context, if not the best public placement, for words like “bullshit.” And his statement that he supports the school system 100 percent is so factually inaccurate Lashley should probably be considered for a job in the current White House.
Part two of his statement, about the current school system and administration being a “disgrace” is also a point of contention for me. Based on what I’ve seen for the last 11 years, this is the best ABSS has operated in quite some time. The one point I will concede here is that this is all a matter of opinion — Lashley’s and mine. Neither could be considered a fact. Lashley is entitled to his opinion, even when I think he’s wrong.
Lashley apparently still harbors residue resentment over Superintendent Bill Harrison being the highest-paid public school superintendent in the state. I would contend that first, Harrison’s additional salary that got him to this point came not from taxpayers but from private citizens who wanted him to leave retirement and take the job because he would be great at it. Two, Harrison took over a school system that was in serious turmoil. It had a fired superintendent who was given more than $200,000 to leave with no public explanation, a board of education at each other’s throats, a pending lawsuit with the newspaper I used to work for, and a strategic plan in limbo. Harrison repaired many of those issues and set a course for ABSS that will shift local schools into a more modern era. He moved the community on a stronger course for public education that should make Alamance County more competitive not only in education but in economic development. Good companies don’t select sites in communities with poor school systems as places to do business. Employees with children won’t relocate to such a place.
That’s pretty far from a disgrace. In fact it’s tremendous work. ABSS Board of Education member Brian Feeley agrees with me there.
“I’ve had the good fortune to work for and with some truly remarkable leaders in my life. Bill Harrison ranks right up there with the very best of them. Far from a disgrace, I couldn’t be more proud of him,” Feeley said. “His distinguished service has earned the respect of anyone who shares our community’s vision for public education in Alamance County.”
So about this disgrace thing Lashley and I disagree, or rather have a difference of opinion. Disgrace is a harsh word anyway. I used it only once verbally as a newspaper editor. I told the late state legislator Cary Allred he was a “—damned disgrace” when he tried to convince me he was driving 100 mph on the interstate to get to a legislative vote and equated himself to a first responder to a fire or traffic accident. I thought his comment deserving of being labeled a disgrace.
Now whether the lack of support for schools by the county this century is a disgrace or merely disgraceful is worthy of discussion.
By the way, when all is said and done I enjoyed re-reading this particularly sarcastic editorial I wrote for the Times-News in March of 2013 about Lashley as, um, peacemaker.