Heidi Shafer is the current chairman of the Shelby County Board of Commissioners, and she’s helping to make the Bluff City a better place – one vote at a time. Since 2010, this busy executive and mother has served as a Shelby County Commissioner. As chairman, she serves not only her fellow commissioners but also the taxpayers — all while also working full-time as COO of The Skin Clinics and The Flinn Clinic. We are pleased to introduce you to today’s FACE of Memphis, Heidi Shafer.
Tell us about where you grew up.
I was born on a farm in Nebraska, one of six children in a very traditional family. When you grow up in a small community, you learn the necessity of finding ways to work with everyone and finding innovative ways to get things done. In rural areas, you don’t have all the bells and whistles that are available in urban areas, so you have to be innovative with what you have. I think that is a great lesson in life!
How did you come to make Memphis your hometown?
I came here to teach at Christ the King Lutheran School. I loved Memphis so much, I decided to stay!
What made you decide to become a county commissioner?
I had no intention of being in elected office. My family has always participated in elections where we knew the issues and candidates, and both my husband and I have both actively worked in many campaigns in our communities. When my boss, Dr. Flinn, became a county commissioner, he asked me to help him with constituent service and researching the issues. When he decided to run for Congress, my husband and my intern talked me into running for Doc’s seat. So I ran, and I am so glad I did. It is such a privilege to be able to serve my neighbors!
Tell us about your role on the Shelby County Commission.
There are 13 commissioners who represent 13 districts that cover all of Shelby County. Each commissioner represents a single district. We are the voice of the people, representing the people to the government.
The commission is the legislative body in the county. We make the “laws” (we call them ordinances/resolutions), set the tax rate and move forward projects that promote the general welfare of Shelby County. Each commissioner only gets one vote, and it takes seven votes to pass any item.
As chairman, I serve my fellow commissioners as well as the taxpayers by making sure the office of the commission runs well, is accountable to the people and fair and transparent to the public. It is a real honor to have been selected as chairman. As the only woman on the county commission, I was truly humbled when my fellow commissioners chose me as chair.
Has there been a particular accomplishment you are most proud of since serving as commissioner?
I campaigned on working to drive down the tax rate, so people can keep more of their own money to take care of their families and invest in their businesses. In my tenure, we have driven down taxes twice. That matters to every family and business in Shelby County, and I couldn’t have done it without my fellow commissioners.
Also, one of my proudest accomplishments in public service would be aggressively taking on the opioid crisis. I just couldn’t sit by and watch our people die without doing what was in my power to do. The cross-jurisdictional team we have built and the plans we are about to enact are groundbreaking. Our community deserves the BEST we can possibly do for them.
Describe your typical day.
I jokingly tell people that I wake up to a starter’s pistol instead of an alarm clock.
I generally return texts and emails early in the morning, and start getting calls as early as 5 a.m., to be sure the day can start well. I try to spend a little time with my husband and daughter before we start our days. I spend the remaining hours in a barrage of meetings, updates, planning sessions, phone calls, emails and texts to keep all of my projects moving forward. My work days extend well past 8 p.m., so it’s important for me to arrange time to be at home the same time as my husband and college-aged daughter.
I have public commission meetings one day a week and constituent meetings on most days, especially in the evenings and on Saturdays and Sundays (after church). It takes a lot of time to be a good public servant, and I can’t let it interfere with my main job, so the pace is a little relentless.
What do you do to relax?
I love doing Pilates and yoga! I need that physical activity to keep me sane. Church is also crucial in my life. That gives me strength for the rest of the week.
Where is the first place you take out-of-towners when they visit you?
I love to take them to The Peabody! To me, it is quintessential Memphis. You have to love a gorgeous hotel that has plain old ducks swimming in a fancy marble fountain. The Peabody is beautiful, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously. That’s what I love about Memphis.
If you could go back 10 years, what advice would you give yourself?
Not to feel so guilty that wherever I was, I should have been somewhere else! As a working wife and mom, I felt guilty at work, because I felt like I should have been home with my family. And when I was home with my family, I felt guilty because I knew there were piles of work stacking up waiting to be done.
It’s one of the reasons that I purposely created a very different work environment at The Skin Clinics. Our work structure is specifically built around the needs of working moms. I want all of our associates to have their phones with them so they can be available when family needs them. And we all cover each other when we need to take time to be at important family and school events. As long as they are getting their jobs done, I give them a lot of latitude to get it done. It’s what my boss, Dr. Flinn, has done for me, which was such an incredible gift. It’s a very different way to do business, but it works for women, and it works for the business. So what’s not to love?
What is something people might be surprised to know about you?
I went to a boarding high school. Everyone in my family did. As a farm kid, it was fabulous to get to live with people from all over the world and get an amazing classical education. I can’t thank my parents enough for struggling to put all six of us kids through Lutheran boarding school!
What is your best piece of advice?
Keep your priorities straight. For me, they are God, family, country, work.
What are three things you can’t live without with the exception of faith, family and friends?
My iPhone — it allows me to keep all the balls up in the air no matter where I am. My co-workers — I work with some of the finest people in the world. Truly, they are accountable, responsible team players. And lastly, Pilates and yoga.
Thank you, Heidi! For more information about Heidi’s work with the Shelby County Board of Commissioners, visit shelbycountytn.gov.
And Heidi would graciously like to thank Salon Lulu‘s Mark Campbell for doing her hair and Alicia George for doing her makeup.
And thank you to Mary Kate Steele for the beautiful photos.
Want insider tips from financial experts? Read our new Q&A series, “Ask Reliant,” in which Reliant’s dynamic team of financial experts cuts through all the dizzying fiscal jargon and delivers practical answers. Approachable financial information has never been easier! Click here to read the first article in the series.