Guilford County is finally entering the big time. It will be joining the state’s other major counties – not to mention the nation’s executive branch – when the county starts a new tradition next week: a televised State of the County address.
At 5 p.m. Thursday, May 4, Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Jeff Phillips will deliver Guilford County’s first annual State of the County speech, which will look back at the past year as well as ahead to the coming one.
The president’s State of the Union address has been a hallmark in Washington, DC, since Woodrow Wilson in 1913. Likewise, many large counties in North Carolina deliver State of the County speeches each year – one usually given by the chairman of a county’s board of commissioners.
Phillip’s May 4 State of the County address will be televised on channel 13 on the Spectrum cable network – the same channel where commissioners meetings can be found. The speech will also be posted after the fact on www.myguilford.com. (The speech will not be broadcast live on the internet due to technical problems the county is now having.)
Phillips said this week that he’ll address the progress made by the county in recent years, as well as the challenges facing it. He added that there will be a press conference immediately following the speech.
Phillips is serving his second straight year as chairman of the nine-member board that currently has a 5-to-4 Republican majority. Phillips said the idea for a State of the County speech came out of discussions with Guilford County Manager Marty Lawing. Phillips said Lawing pointed out to him that most major counties in North Carolina had an address of this type each year.
Lawing has attempted, ever since he took the job of county manager in 2013, to create a more polished and professional image for Guilford County government like the ones Mecklenburg County and Wake County have. In the years before Lawing arrived, the only real move made in that direction was when Guilford County staff found an old podium in storage that bore the county seal. County staff dusted the podium off and used it when the county had major announcements that would be broadcast by TV news.
Over the last four years, Lawing has repeatedly – but unsuccessfully – asked for the Board of Commissioners to vote to fund a public information officer. That public relations professional would work with the media and attempt to get the message out on the positive things Guilford County government is doing. As it is now, media reports often tend to focus on the negative – given the nature of the news business. The coming State of the County speech will be one new vehicle for the county to make its points.
Mecklenburg County, the state’s largest county, and Wake County, the second largest, both have State of the County addresses delivered by the chairs of those boards of commissioners each year. Wake County’s speech is featured on the county’s website.
At the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Thursday, April 20 meeting, when Phillips announced the upcoming speech, he received some quizzical looks from fellow commissioners, some of whom were clearly hearing about it for the first time.
When some commissioners asked Phillips what in the world he was talking about, Phillips, who was elected commissioner in 2012, said of the speech, “This is the first since I’ve been on the board.”
Commissioner Carolyn Coleman, who became a commissioner in 2002, said, “I’ve never heard of it.”
Commissioner Kay Cashion seemed fascinated by Phillips’ announcement of the new tradition and she wanted to know more about where the idea came from.
This week, Guilford County Clerk to the Board Robin Keller said the chairman of the Board of Commissioners used to be a regular speaker at the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce’s State of Our Community Luncheon held each year in August, but in recent years that has not been the case. Keller said the chamber speech used to be a good chance each year for the chairman to reflect publically on the current state of the county.
Each year in Washington, the president’s State of the Union address is followed by a televised rebuttal from the opposing party; however it does not appear at this point as if Phillips’ speech will be followed by a rebuttal by a Democrat.
“Not likely,” Keller wrote in an email when asked about that. “But it’s always good to be prepared.”