One election is over and now it’s time for another one.
The Guilford County Board of Commissioners is set – meet the new board same as the old board – and now the commissioners must, as they do each year, select a chairman. That vote will take place in early December but talks are already underway.
One thing is known for sure: the next chairman will be one of the board’s five Republicans. They hold a majority on the board and, ever since 2012 when the Republicans gained that majority, there has been a Republican chair and there will be this time too.
The position is an important one because the chairman – often known as “the mayor of the county” – sets the meeting agendas, appoints members to committees and is the most visible and active member of the board. He or she can use the position to help steer government in the desired direction.
Earlier this year, Vice Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Justin Conrad seemed like the certain pick to be the next chairman: Conrad has expressed interest in the position, is well liked by his fellow commissioners and, in many years, the vice chairmanship is a natural “stepping stone” position for the chairman’s seat.
However, Conrad has been spending a lot of time lately dealing with a health issue in his family and Conrad said that helping out there does have to be a priority. He said he knows that being chairman is very time consuming. He also said that, given the current situation, he’s not sure if he will seek the job this year. Conrad said it is something that he has hoped to do, but the timing right now makes it questionable.
It does seem that, if Conrad decides he wants the job of chairman, he will have it. If he doesn’t want it, then the door is wide open for the other Republican commissioners – all of whom have expressed at least some interest in the job. Of the remaining four Republicans, only Commissioner Alan Perdue has said that this year he wouldn’t be seeking the position. Perdue said he would like to chair the board at a future point but said this year wasn’t the year for it.
Another Republican commissioner, Hank Henning, has served as chairman before and he said he would consider doing it this time if fellow commissioners wanted him to.
One interesting comment Henning made is that, in one respect, it doesn’t matter which of the Republicans serve as chairman. Henning said that the five Republicans on the board are a fairly cohesive unit with similar goals, such as reducing taxes and conducting county government in the most efficient way possible.
“We’re a pretty tight bunch,” he said. “We get along; we’re more than just colleagues.”
He also said that in recent years there had been good cooperation between the Republicans and the Democrats on the board, and, no matter who has been chairman, county government has proceeded in a very civil manner for the most part.
If Conrad decides not to pursue the position, the two who seem like they would most want the job are current Chairman Alan Branson and former Chairman Jeff Phillips.
Phillips said that the talks of who will be chairman are “preliminary” at this point, but he added that early December was approaching fast. Phillips said he wants to gauge the level of interest of the others and he also said that, if Conrad wanted to be chairman, he, Phillips, would be willing to serve as vice chairman and help fill in when Conrad needed to deal with a personal matter. Phillips said that, having been chairman before, that experience could help him be a vice chairman ready to handle a matter for the board if Conrad could not.
Phillips said he does hope Conrad decides he wants the position.
“I’d like to see him do it,” Phillips said. “He’s worked hard over the last four years and he has first right of refusal.”
Branson said he would be willing to serve again if called on to do so. He also said that it’s a lot different than just being a commissioner because there are all sorts of staff meetings, ribbon cuttings and other events to attend and that often means a lot of time away from work.