Fact and Fiction Concerning
County Commissioner Races
The filing period for the 2014 election races opened on Monday, Feb. 10, and already events in the Guilford County Board of Commissioners races have proven surprising.
The energy has been high; one “candidate,” Danny Thompson, even got in and out of the race before filing opened; and former Greensboro City Councilmember Dianne Bellamy-Small, a highly polarizing political figure, jumped into the District 1 commissioners race this week, surprising a lot of people and energizing the political atmosphere even more.
Bellamy-Small was a controversial city councilmember, and some Guilford County commissioners say, on and off the record, that they’re concerned about a disruption of the board’s current peaceful demeanor if Bellamy-Small is elected to the District 1 seat currently held by Commissioner Bruce Davis. Davis is running for the 6th Congressional District seat held by Howard Coble, who is stepping down after 30 years.
Commissioner Ray Trapp said that, after years of bickering, the current nine commissioners have reached a state of relative calm, and even warmth toward one another, and he wants that to continue. He said he’s worried Bellamy-Small might make waves if she wins.
“It’s a delicate balance of how we get along,” Trapp said, “and I don’t want that to be disrupted.”
He added that he had worked with Bellamy-Small on a community project before and he thinks that, one on one, Bellamy-Small comes across differently than she does in public meetings.
“I would say that the way she is perceived is not who she is,” Trapp said.
Bellamy-Small has a reputation of being caustic and abrasive among many who have worked with her and watched her performances at City Council meetings. Her actions have spanned the gamut from comical to bizarre.
Trapp said he was surprised to hear Bellamy-Small had jumped into the commissioners District 1 race this year. He said he knew she would be back in public life at some point after losing her seat as a Greensboro city councilmember last fall, but he didn’t know it would be so soon, nor that her target would be the Board of Commissioners.
“This election is going to be very interesting,” Trapp said.
Commissioner Alan Branson said he has worked with Bellamy-Small before. He said that once, when he tried to shake her hand, he was surprised that she greeted the gesture very coldly, though he did say she eventually shook his hand.
Branson said he’s eager to see who else files to run in that race, adding that it’s his understanding Davis will endorse another candidate.
“I’m very interested to see who Bruce has up his sleeve to fill that seat,” Branson said. “It doesn’t look like Bruce is going to support Dianne Bellamy-Small.”
Commissioner Carolyn Coleman had very little to say when she was asked her thoughts on Small getting into the District 1 race.
“Everyone has the right to run in whatever race they choose,” Coleman said.
When asked if she would elaborate on that, Coleman said, “That’s all I have to say right now.”
The District 1 race is certain to be highly entertaining this year – assuming other candidates run in that district as expected – and that’s just one of the commissioners seats that are up for grabs. This year, five of the nine seats on the board are on the ballot: the District 1 commissioner’s seat held by Davis, the District 2 seat now held by Chairman Bill Bencini, the District 3 seat occupied by Linda Shaw, the District 7 seat held by Coleman and the at-large seat that Kay Cashion now occupies – though Cashion wasn’t elected at large.
This year, two Guilford County commissioners, Davis and District 5 representative Jeff Phillips, are running for the 6th Congressional District seat now held by Coble.
When it comes to the races for commissioners seats, all sorts of rumors have been whizzing around. In fact, the rumors have been so widespread that perhaps the best way to begin talking about what’s going to happen in the 2014 Guilford County Board of Commissioners races is to look at what’s not going to happen.
Some of the high-flying rumors, though intriguing, should rightfully be knocked back down to earth. In no particular order, here are the major rumors currently making the rounds regarding the Guilford County commissioner races:
1. Cashion, who now serves as Guilford County’s at-large commissioners, planning to run for the board’s District 3 seat instead of the at-large seat, since the District 3 incumbent, Shaw, has decided not to run again. 2. Former Commissioner Paul Gibson is going to get into the at-large race and attempt to make a comeback as a commissioner – just as he did in 2004 after serving on the board in the mid ’80s. 3. Commissioner Bruce Davis’ brother is going to run for Davis’ seat. 4. Speaking of Davis, he’s conspiring with a political ally who will run for his current commissioners seat and, if Davis doesn’t win the congressional race, then his political surrogate will step down as a commissioner after being sworn in, and Davis will take over the seat on the board through political appointment.
While all of those rumors are highly entertaining, they all share the common trait of being false – or at least they certainly appear to be.
First, Cashion has filed to run as an at-large candidate. When the Rhino Times asked Cashion whether she had considered running in District 3 rather than as an at-large candidate, she seemed astonished at the question, and it appeared to be the first time she’d heard the idea that had been making the rounds among just about everyone else.
The Democrat Cashion responded, “That district leans Republican; why would I do that?”
Second, Gibson has absolutely no desire to get back into the rat race that is Guilford County politics. When the Rhino Times asked Gibson if he planned to run this year, he just smiled and laughed. Gibson, who looks much younger and less stressed than he did when he was a commissioner two years ago, appears to have no plans to run whatsoever.
As for rumor number 3, Davis said that he’d heard the rumor, but he added that his brother certainly isn’t running for office, and, as for the fourth rumor, Davis spoke eagerly about starting a new chapter in his life, whether that means serving in Congress, as he hopes, or taking on a set of new responsibilities that doesn’t involve being a Guilford County commissioner for a change.
In 2010, Davis managed to find a way to run for two seats in the same election – his commissioners seat and the District 28 NC state Senate seat – but he won’t be able to do that again: After his dual run, the state passed a law that many now call the “Bruce Davis Rule,” which prevents politicians from simultaneously running for two seats in the same election, as Davis managed to do four years ago. For him to run for Congress and maintain his commissioners seat with yet another type of razzle-dazzle end run around the rules would be fascinating, but it seems highly unlikely this time.
In District 2, Bencini stated he isn’t running for his seat on the Board of Commissioners but says he still doesn’t want to say whether he will or won’t run for mayor of High Point. The filing season for that mayoral seat opens on Monday, July 7. However, Bencini said that, the way the media talks about it these days, you would think he’d already filed and put up signs.
Despite Bencini’s coy protestations of uncertainty, all the smart money says that Bencini will run for High Point mayor – a position once held by his father. Regardless, he has stated that he isn’t seeking reelection to the Board of Commissioners and that leaves his District 2 seat open.
One strong contender for that seat is former Guilford County Emergency Services Director Alan Perdue, who filed to run on Monday, Feb. 10, the first day of the filing period.
As the head of Emergency Services, Perdue was highly respected by his employees, commissioners and other county officials.
Perdue went into emergency services as a teenager and stayed there until he retired last year, and he said now that he’s out of that field he wants to serve the county in other ways.
“Having been a public servant my entire life,” Perdue said, “I’m just looking forward to continuing that.”
Perdue also said that there are a number of goals he wants to push for if elected to the board.
“I think the big thing is to establish a solid infrastructure,” Perdue said.
He said it’s important to bring new business to the county, but he added that he thinks the way to do that isn’t by just throwing money at the companies the county is courting.
“In general, I’m opposed to incentives” Perdue said, adding that he might vote for incentives in a special case.
“Would you always put water on a fire – no,” he said.
He said he doesn’t think Guilford County has seen the returns it expected from the companies it has granted incentives in the past, and he thinks there are better ways to attract business.
He said that, before he announced his candidacy, he ran the idea by some well-known area citizens who he expects to support him in the coming months.
“I’m not ready to put those names out there yet,” Perdue said.
In District 3, Shaw, who’s been on the board since 1998, said in January that she would not run again. Before Shaw made it known that she wouldn’t seek reelection to the District 3 seat, Libby Hill Seafood President Justin Conrad had already announced he would be running for that spot on the board. On the day Shaw announced she wasn’t running, former Greensboro City Councilmember Danny Thompson told the Rhino Times that he would run in that northwestern district.
However, Thompson then suddenly pulled out of the race, almost certainly setting an all-time county record for the least time between announcing as a candidate and calling it quits.
Thompson is the owner and operator of Comfort Keepers, which provides in-home care for elderly clients in Greensboro and High Point, and he said that a change in that business prompted his decision to get out of the race.
On Friday, Jan. 24 – the same day that Shaw announced she wouldn’t seek reelection – Thompson told the Rhino Times that he planned to run for the District 3 seat. On Friday, Jan. 31, Thompson was working the room at the Greensboro Shrine Club on High Point Road, where many well-known county officials had gathered for the reelection kickoff party of Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes, who had to miss the event due to a pulmonary problem that required the insertion of a stent in the sheriff’s heart. On Wednesday, Feb. 5, Thompson sent out a press release announcing that he was pulling out of the District 3 commissioners race.
“Due to recent business developments, I will need to focus my energies in leading our management team through an exciting expansion,” Thompson’s press release said. “Our new alliance with one of the Triad’s largest physician organizations will enable us to create 45 new jobs and expand our senior services beyond Guilford County in the next year.”
When Thompson was asked how he could be campaigning hard on Friday night and then suddenly stepping down on Tuesday afternoon due to “recent business developments,” he said there was no hidden reason behind his action and his press release told the true story.
“I just got a great opportunity – a pilot program with a physicians’ group,” he said. “It was a Monday meeting.”
He also said that, before that meeting on Monday, Feb. 3, he’d known that the business expansion was a possibility. However, he said, it wasn’t certain until that morning. Thompson said he saw the filing date coming up and he knew he had to reevaluate his decision to run. Conrad may have to face others but he won’t have to face Thompson.
Thompson said he called Conrad to let him know of his decision to pull out, and he said the conversation was very cordial.
In the District 7 race, Coleman, who filed on the first day of filing, told the Rhino Times she was eager to run again and she hoped to do well, but she added that, since the 2012 redistricting – which shrunk the board from 11 members to nine and drew new district lines – her district, like all the others, is a new one.
In the at-large race, Cashion is running for reelection. Cashion, who served as a district commissioner before the 2012 redistricting, said that, in one respect at least, there’s not much difference between serving at large and serving in a district.
“I get calls from all over the county,” Cashion said, adding that that was the case when she represented a district before the 2012 rezoning made her an at-large commissioner.
She said she believes that, in a lot of cases, citizens aren’t aware of what district they’re in and which commissioner represents them, so they call who they know.
One contender in that at-large race is Larry Proctor, a retired former co-owner of Sedgefield Lawn and Garden Center and Sedgefield Outdoor Equipment. Proctor served for years as chairman of the Guilford County Planning Board, and he now serves as a member of the county’s Board of Equalization and Review, the board that hears appeals from taxpayers regarding their tax bills. Proctor ran unsuccessfully for an at-large commissioners seat six years ago.
At the Thursday, Feb. 6 commissioners meeting, Bencini and others cracked a good deal of jokes about all the politicking going on among the group.
At one point in the meeting, Bencini said, “I concede my time to the next candidate,” and later he asked for a show of hands of all the commissioners who were throwing their hats into the 6th District race – and nearly all the commissioners raised their hands. Later, Commissioner Hank Henning joked that he wanted to apologize for whatever it was he had done – he said that apparently he had done something because he came onto the board and now everyone was leaving.
One thing that’s really interesting about the board is that, no matter what happens, at the end of 2014, the Guilford County Board of Commissioners will look drastically different than it did in the fall of 2012. For nearly a decade before 2012, the board had almost all the same faces election after election, but that changed two years ago with four new commissioners and it will change again at the end of this year.
Perdue said he thinks it’s a good thing for the board to have a lot of new blood.
“I think it’s exciting to have new people who bring new ideas,” he said.
By Scott D. Yost
February 13, 2014
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