A second term on the Elkin Board of Commissioners wasn’t in Dr. Skip Whitman’s original plans when he ran for office four years ago, but since that time, he has reconsidered and recently filed to see reelection.
“I didn’t make the decision to run until very late, it was 11:45 on the final day,” said Whitman. “When I started this four years ago, I didn’t have a plan or reason for running other than I care for Elkin and people asked me to run.”
After being elected and taking his seat on the board, he began realizing how little he knew about how the town operated.
“We’ve done a lot of good things over the last four years,” he said.
Whitman’s belief is, “small municipal government does better with the changing of the guard. More people learning what it takes to run a town and it encourages involvement.”
That was his thought process behind just wanting to serve one term in the beginning, but as it came time to file for candidacy this year, Whitman said he had “a lot of people come up to me and ask me to consider running again.”
“Unless you make a mistake or do something not popular, you don’t get a lot of feedback,” said Whitman. “Then I saw there weren’t that many people running and I thought it was going to be a lot of change in people — with a new mayor, J.L. [Lowe] not running and me not running. I thought it wasn’t right for me to just not run again.
“There is too much good happening in Elkin to let it falter and there is still much to do,” he said.
Whitman said his passion is not for politics, his name will never be seen on a ballot for a seat above Elkin’s board, because that’s where his passion lies.
“I have enjoyed the challenges. We turned our water system around and it is self-sufficient now, which is the way it is supposed to be,” he said. “We have so much energy in Elkin being generated with the trails association, the watershed group, the Main Street groups.
“I think we’re in the process of rebranding Elkin, and I would certainly like to see that come to fruition — I would like to see the trails complete, the heritage center complete, I’d like to see revitalization of that part of town,” said Whitman of just a few projects the town is involved with. “I think there is an awful lot of potential on the  bypass. I think the key to the bypass is another hotel, and if we could get that to happen, I think the bypass could really flourish.”
He recognized the past four years were difficult times for the town and the decisions the board had to make. “The economy has not been great, but we’ve weathered it well. There has been a mild tax increase and we had to increase water rates, so some decisions we had to make have been painful. The challenge is always trying to identify the right priorities on whether to say where to spend money over where to not spend our money because we don’t have any.”
As opposed to the federal government being able to borrow needed money, Whitman said he likes the fact the town has to balance its budget, “because it is too easy to spend money you don’t have.”
“The people who work for our town are unsung heroes. That’s been a learning process for me,” he continued. “I’d been here 20 years, and it was an eye-opener for me. I want to give my support for them. We had a substantial number of employees who were below the standard rate of pay compared to other towns, and now no one is below that level.”
The town’s economy is another concern for Whitman. “Of course the economy is a challenge for us right now. My personal opinion, I think it is going to be difficult to get a big company even with a shell building because we have a limited workforce. It’s been a difficult process with PGW for hiring,” he said. “PGW has been great for our town, and I support the idea of a shell building.
“That’s why I think it is so important to continue our rebranding, investing in our infrastructure to improve the Main Street area, to improve our culture, our arts, to support things that will bring active, energetic, young working people to Elkin. That’s why I’ve been interested in downtown for upper-level apartments.
“It’s important we continue rebranding Elkin. In my lifetime, we’re never going to go back to the Chatham mill town environment, it’s not going to happen,” Whitman said. “We have to invest in ourselves.
“As difficult as those decisions are, we have to invest in Elkin because if we’re not willing to invest in our own town, I think anyone looking at Elkin to live, or open a business would think twice.”
Those investments in the community — the library, the park, the recreation center, the schools — are what brought Whitman and his family to Elkin 20 years ago after he left military service. “That’s what we need, we need to keep investing our money and time and talents in Elkin.
“One of the most common front bumper tags when we moved here said ‘Best Little Town in North Carolina.’ I don’t think we’re back there yet, but I think we’re on the right path,” Whitman said. “I think it is obtainable, but it is not something we can do as a board or as town employees, but something we can do together, we need the involvement of our people.”
Whitman lives in Elkin with his high-school sweetheart and wife, Diane, and they raised five children here who graduated from Elkin High School. They now have three grandchildren as well. He has been an orthopedic surgeon for 30 years, starting Tri-County Orthopedics with just himself and five employees in July of 1992.
“We’d spent seven-plus years in Fayetteville, and we had grown up in a town similar to Elkin on the New Jersey coast. We enjoyed our time in North Carolina and we loved the North Carolina people, they are so friendly. On a whim we visited Elkin, and as we walked Main Street, we fell in love. It felt like home, it felt like where we grew up,” Whitman said.
The only incumbent in a race of four candidates vying for two commissioners seats, Whitman encouraged the residents of town to “come out and vote, because we’re there for them.”
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.