The Guilford County Board of Commissioners won’t elect a new chairman and vice chairman until Thursday, Dec 7, but, behind the scenes, talks have already determined who will take those leadership roles: Guilford County Commissioner Alan Branson will serve as chairman of the board for the next year and Commissioner Justin Conrad will be vice chairman.
When Branson was asked if he would be chairman, he said, “Well, I’m going to give it a shot.”
Several county commissioners said this week that Branson does have at least the five votes needed to be chairman of the nine-member board and that Conrad has the votes to become vice chairman. All five Republican commissioners are expected to vote for Branson and Conrad, and Branson said he’s hopeful he’ll also be able to get support from Democratic Commissioner Kay Cashion. He said he’s not sure about the other three Democrats on the board, but he will try to secure their support as well by Dec. 7.
Branson, who runs a family business, Stout Trucking Inc., was first elected to the Board of Commissioners in 2012. He lives in Julian and represents District 4, which covers a wide swath of eastern Guilford County, including the Guilford County Prison Farm and some of the county’s most rural areas.
Branson currently serves as vice chairman of the Board of Commissioners and it’s a well publicized fact that he considered running for chairman last year. However, at that time, there were several business and family issues that kept him from seeking the job. Last December, current Chairman Jeff Phillips was elected to a second term as head of the board.
The board’s chairman only gets one vote like every other commissioner, but he or she has a lot more responsibility. The chairman, who is sometimes referred to as “the mayor of the county,” runs the meetings, sets the board’s agenda, appoints board committees and makes speeches at ribbon cuttings and other county events.
Due to Phillips’ excellent attendance record, there have been very few times in the last two years that Branson has been called on to run a meeting as vice chairman – so he’ll no doubt be brushing up on his Robert’s Rules of Order in the coming weeks.
Branson has been active as a commissioner and vice chairman, as well as a community member and open space advocate. He has served on the Greensboro/Burlington Transportation Advisory Board, the Guilford County Volunteer Agriculture Board as well as the board of the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners.
Branson has also been an active and outspoken member of the Guilford County Parks and Recreation Commission during his time as a commissioner. He’s also the county’s appointee to the Board of Transportation for the National Association of County Commissioners.
Branson is interested in wildlife and open space preservation and is a member of the North Carolina Wildlife Habitat Foundation and a previous vice president of the McLeansville Wildlife Club.
He said this week that he wants 2018 to be all about job creation in Guilford County. He said he feels the county is on the verge of breaking out in a big way when it comes to economic recruitment. Currently the word is that the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite is one of the sites being considered for a Toyota-Mazda auto plant and there has been growth in the aviation businesses operating at Piedmont Triad International Airport. The airport also has close to a thousand acres of land that will be open for development in the near future.
“The biggest thing is job recruitment,” Branson said of his primary goal in the coming 12 months.
He said he sees 2018 as a year when some major companies could come to Guilford County and create a lot of new jobs.
“I think the opportunity is there to bust wide open,” Branson said.
Branson said he knows job recruitment has been a focus of the current chairman of the Board of Commissioners and added that he feels Phillips would have wanted to remain chairman if he, Branson, had decided he didn’t have time to take on those duties this year.
In 2012, a Republican majority took control of the Board of Commissioners and it’s had a Republican chairman ever since. Before that the board had 18 years of Democratic chairs. The Republican majority has certainly had some missteps over the last five years, but the board has gradually brought down the property tax rate after nearly two decades of consistent tax rate hikes by the Democrats. The Republicans have also greatly reduced the county’s debt during the last five years.
Conrad, who represents District 3 covering much of the county’s northwest, graduated from East Carolina University before going on to head up the well known family business – Libby Hill Seafood. Conrad is now president and CEO of Bay Hill Seafood Sales.
Conrad said one area of focus for him in 2018 is the effort under consideration for municipal water to be extended into more areas of the county. He said water service was, more and more, becoming a major issue not just in northwest Guilford County – where there is a move to provide municipal water to the small towns there – but in other parts of the county as well.
Conrad pointed out that, last week, when the commissioners voted down a rezoning request that would have allowed Lehigh Hanson to begin granite mining at a quarry near Pleasant Garden, one of the board’s major concerns was that blasting might hurt well water quality and availability in that area. If that part of the county wasn’t so dependent on well water, Conrad said, the commissioners wouldn’t have put some much emphasis on that concern.
“It would have been a moot point,” Conrad said.
He said early next year a study of the water situation in northeast Guilford County would be complete.
“That study will be done and decisions will need to be made,” Conrad said.
One interesting thing this year is that one of those who had his eye on a leadership position is former five-time chairman of the board, Democratic Commissioner Skip Alston. Alston, who served on the board for two decades before not running again in 2012, got very used to being chairman and seemed to enjoy it quite a bit.
Alston was appointed to the Board of Commissioners once again in April after former Commissioner Ray Trapp stepped down.
Alston would love to be chairman again, and, while that isn’t going to happen with a Republican majority, some commissioners said Alston did test the waters to see if he could be elected vice chairman this time around.
Branson said he knows Alston would like nothing better than to be running the board again.
“There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that he would want to be chairman,” Branson said.
Branson added that Alston had asked him about being vice chairman. Branson said he didn’t really even respond.
“I didn’t have my hearing aid in when he said that,” Branson said.
Conrad also said he’d heard that Alston made a short-lived bid to become vice chair, but Conrad added that Alston just joined the board this year.
“At the end of the day, Skip is still relatively new to our board,” Conrad said. “Skip is very engaged. He goes to agenda meetings. He’s on the search committee for a new Animal Services director. But he’s still very new.”
Conrad said one day a board with a Republican majority might elect a Democratic vice chairman but he certainly didn’t think Dec. 7, 2017 would be that day.
Phillips said he’d had a conversation in which Branson expressed his interest in being chairman this year. Phillips said he intended to support him.
“It really worked out well,” Phillips said, referring to the fact that Branson was too busy last year to seek the job and Phillips wanted another year as chairman. Phillips said last year at this time that there were a lot of county initiatives in progress and he wanted another year to help see them through.
Commissioner Alan Perdue also said he “anticipates” Branson will be elected chairman and Conrad will be vice chairman.
Branson and Conrad will each have a little more money coming after Dec. 7. A regular Guilford County commissioner makes $20,700 a year, while the vice chairman makes $21,000 and the chairman pulls in $24,300 annually.