Last year, only one of nine Guilford County commissioners was willing to vote to approve county funding for the new baseball stadium in High Point that’s now underway – and this year that could come back to haunt them.
Several Guilford County commissioners said this week that a political action committee – the High Point Political Alliance (HPPA) – is “targeting” Guilford County commissioners who are up for reelection this year since the county didn’t offer financial support for the stadium meant to help revitalize High Point’s downtown area. High Point leaders say that, if the current board won’t support their city, they’ll seek out and support commissioner candidates in the 2018 election who do.
Guilford County Commissioner Skip Alston said he’s gotten word that commissioners who didn’t vote to support the downtown baseball stadium now have targets on their backs for the High Point PAC and others in High Point.
“I don’t like what they’re doing,” Alston said. “It’s political suicide. It shows that they don’t want to work together going forward. I don’t like that.”
Several Guilford County commissioners said the HPPA may even find and support opponents of sitting commissioners in districts, like Alston’s, that are entirely outside of High Point.
The HPPA, a nonprofit PAC that describes itself as “non-partisan,” was formed in March 2017, which was about the same time the High Point City Council voted to move forward on the new downtown stadium project – though the group’s leaders say the goals extend way beyond seeing the ballpark project completed.
While some county commissioners speak about the new political uprising in High Point as “targeting,” or as High Point acting out of “retribution,” HPPA President Brian Gavigan doesn’t use those words. He does make it clear, however, that the HPPA is working to get a Guilford County Board of Commissioners that’s filled with people who keep High Point’s interest in mind.
Gavigan, an attorney with Wyatt Early Harris Wheeler, said the HPPA is primarily interested in protecting and advancing the economic and financial well being of High Point and he said the votes of every commissioner on the board – not just the three from High Point districts – affect what happens to High Point.
He said that those commissioners races that include High Point will get the most attention.
“The ones who represent High Point are the ones we’re most mindful of,” Gavigan said. “In the other parts of the county? Yes, we’re interested – because the votes they take also affect High Point.”
In 2018, six of the nine Guilford County commissioners are up for reelection: Democratic Commissioners Carolyn Coleman, Carlvena Foster, Kay Cashion and Alston, and Republicans Alan Perdue and Justin Conrad. All six have announced their desire to keep their seats on the board. Only one, Foster – who represents much of High Point – pushed for Guilford County to approve High Point’s funding request for the stadium.
When Foster made a motion to do so at a Thursday, Sept. 21 county commissioners meeting packed with stadium supporters from High Point, her motion failed for a lack of a second. Many High Point residents see the $35 million downtown revitalization project as the most important one the city has taken on in decades – if not ever – and they were very upset that Guilford County didn’t come through with any financial help for the initiative. Many city leaders at that time said at the time of the vote that they would remember that lack of support when they go to the polls in 2018. Apparently, they are keeping that pledge.
Of the commissioners running this year, Foster and Perdue are the ones in districts that include sections of High Point. Cashion, the board’s at-large representative, is elected countywide. Henning, whose district includes High Point, isn’t up for reelection until 2020.
Alston said he doesn’t know if the HPPA will be able to have much say in District 8, the east Greensboro district he represents. He added that it’s simply not true that the Board of Commissioners doesn’t support the stadium. The board just could not agree to High Point’s particular request.
The Board of Commissioners didn’t approve the particular financing plan High Point presented because they had several concerns with the request, which called for Guilford County to provide $11.2 million over two decades. However, Alston added, that doesn’t mean the commissioners don’t support the stadium or that they don’t want to find other ways to help it along as it develops.
“I supported it and I support it now,” Alston said of the stadium.
He said that, as the ballpark and the private development around it takes shape, he’d like to see Guilford County play a role in the project, but he added that the previous request wasn’t well thought out in content or presentation.
The commissioners found mistakes in the numbers High Point presented, said they did not feel this was the proper method for financing it and said that High Point officials made more of a “demand” of the county than a request.
Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Alan Branson, who isn’t up for reelection to the board this year, said he’s also heard the commissioners that didn’t support High Point’s stadium funding request – everyone other than Foster – would be targets in this election by the PAC and other High Point forces. Branson said that strikes him as petty and he added that he thinks some High Point leaders may see the election as a way to finally get stadium funding by putting pressure on commissioners.
“I don’t know that this is going to do what they hope,” the chairman said.
On Sept. 21, the same meeting Foster’s motion couldn’t get a second, the commissioners voted to put off a decision for 60 to 90 days but then never addressed the issue again. Since then they’ve shown no signs of a desire to revisit the issue. Branson said that request is now dead in the water.
“I think it’s toast,” Branson said. “It’s burnt toast. They burned that bridge. It’s unfortunate.”
Branson said he knows the High Point leaders and the stadium supporters in that city were greatly distraught by the board’s decision.
“I think they took it pretty tough to the gut,” he said.
Branson also said the HPPA and the business community in High Point will no doubt support Foster, who persistently tried to get her fellow commissioners to fund the stadium.
“She’s their golden child right now,” Branson said. “They’re giving her accolades and awards.”
The HPPA certainly appears to have some political teeth – at least in the High Point area. The group weighed in heavily on High Point City Council elections and spent about $100,000 in those races. In all eight contested races, the candidate supported by the HPPA won. A ninth City Council race was uncontested.
HPPA promotional materials state that the group “focuses on issues pertaining to public policy and primarily seeks to endorse pro-business candidates in local, county, school board and state offices in order to further the business interests of High Point, Guilford County and the greater community.”
The HPPA has an expressed goal of increasing the tax base of High Point as well as advancing the causes of public schools. It also seeks to support High Point projects such as some of those being undertaken by High Point University President Nido Qubein and that university, which continues to grow quickly in High Point.
The HPPA’s platform states that the group will back “electable” candidates. A few PAC’s will back candidates who merely file to run, don’t do much else and have virtually no chance of winning.
The HPPA’s platform states, “The Alliance will be a positive force for the good regarding local and state elections, encouraging the development of both new and established political leaders.”
Gavigan didn’t say whether the group was recruiting candidates to run against the commissioners who didn’t support the stadium – but he did say that it is interested in “developing political leadership,” which, Gavigan added, is an important part of an effective strategy to make sure that High Point’s needs are met.
The platform states that the “voting records of incumbents” will be a factor in the decisions of the HPPA.
“At the bottom of it, we came together to promote economic growth and pro-growth candidates” Gavigan said.
He said the first step was the High Point City Council elections in 2017 and that was a great success for the PAC.
“I think we have a really good City Council,” Gavigan said.
He said HPPA maintains close connections with the High Point Chamber of Commerce, and before the HPPA was formed, there was talk of the chamber creating a legislative committee that would weigh in on local and state laws. However, it was then decided an independent PAC would be a better option.
“We wanted to be working from a clean slate,” Gavigan said, adding that there are still plenty of connections between his group and the chamber. “We talk all the time.”
The High Point Chamber of Commerce website states that the organization doesn’t endorse political candidates; however, it adds, “We recognize public policy affects our members and their businesses.”
The HPPA doesn’t plan to weigh in on federal races but does plan to play a role in some state races in the 2018 election in addition to the county commissioners races.
Gavigan said his organization will interview candidates and see where they stand. He said High Point’s revitalization still has a long way to go and it would be beneficial if High Point citizens had a Guilford County Board of Commissioners they could count on to help the city prosper.
“We came together to promote pro economic growth candidates,” he said. “We have a desire to accelerate some of the good things that are going on in High Point.”
In 2017, HPPA funding came from well known movers and shakers in High Point including furniture industry executives.
The PAC raised just over $100,000 last year and spent nearly all of that on the High Point races to great success. It’s not known how much the alliance plans to raise or devote to commissioner races this year.
Scott Tilley, senior vice president of wealth management with The Tilley Group, helped found the HPPA in early 2017. He said he really struggles with the fact that High Point is attempting to make great strides but can’t get support from the vast majority of the current county commissioners.
Tilley said Foster has been the exception.
“Carlvena Foster has been awesome,” he said. “She was the lone voice. Where were the others?”
Tilley added, “We need to make sure we have commissioners who represent our city. The last group stuck together for party purposes. They didn’t represent our city.”
The group of commissioners that supported a delay in the stadium decision consisted of five Republicans and three Democrats, but some contend that Henning and Perdue were swayed by fellow Republican commissioners instead of High Point residents.
Former High Point Mayor Bill Bencini always refers to High Point as “the red-headed stepchild of Guilford County.” He said the citizens took the county’s lack of stadium funding hard and the memory of what happened doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon.
“It’s still pretty raw,” Bencini said this week.
Bencini, who served on the Guilford County Board of Commissioner and as chairman of that board before becoming mayor of High Point, said that at the very least the commissioners who were put on the board with help from the citizens of High Point should be willing to support that city with their votes at the county level.