The Tuesday, May 8 primary is almost here and one of the most watched battles is the one to become the Republican contender for the Guilford County Board of Commissioners District 2 seat in November. In that contest, Guilford County Commissioner Alan Perdue is up against challenger Ashley Tillery.
Right off the bat, there are a few obvious differences between the two: Perdue is male, Tillery female; Perdue lives in Greensboro, Tillery in High Point; Perdue is the incumbent while Tillery is running for office for the first time.
The messages from the two campaigns are distinct as well. Perdue is stressing his years of experience in county government while Tillery is emphasizing a need for High Point to have a stronger voice on the Board of Commissioners representing its interests.
The winner of the District 2 Republican primary will go up against Democrat Scott Jones, a former volunteer fireman who’s now the executive board chairman of Tiny Houses Greensboro – an organization that helps provide long-term affordable housing to the homeless. Jones faces no opposition in the Democratic primary.
The seat being pursued serves a diverse district that includes parts of Greensboro, High Point, Jamestown and Pleasant Garden as well as a good swath of unincorporated southwestern Guilford County.
Tillery, 40, is the director of development and community outreach for Exchange SCAN (Stop Child Abuse Now), a Winston-Salem nonprofit that works to prevent child abuse and create better home environments for kids.
Perdue, 57, served for a decade as the director of the Guilford County Emergency Services Department before retiring and running for county commissioner. Perdue still does a great deal of Emergency Services consulting work nationally.
Perdue, who’s held the District 2 seat since 2014, said he’s proud of what’s been accomplished over the last four years under the Republican board on which he’s played a role. He said he believes the commissioners have moved Guilford County forward in many positive ways.
“We’ve paid down the bond debt, provided more money to the schools, funded a family justice center in Greensboro and High Point and other needed projects – and we’ve done it all while reducing taxes,” he said.
Every year Perdue has been on the board – in fact, every year since the board gained a Republican majority in 2012 – the commissioners have either reduced property taxes or kept them the same. In the decade and a half before that, the Democratic majority on the board raised taxes practically every year – some years by eye-opening amounts.
Perdue said he wants to help the current trend continue. He said it helps to have a strong familiarity with county govern
“I think I bring experienced leadership,” Perdue said, adding that he considers both his work as the Emergency Services Department director and his four years as a commissioner beneficial to his decision making.
Tillery said what District 2 needs is someone who’ll pay a lot more attention to High Point and the surrounding area. She said she hasn’t seen much of that from Perdue.
“I am committed to the community in terms of High Point,” Tillery said, adding that she lives in the city and is married to the director of Parks & Recreation for High Point.
Tillery considered running for the High Point City Council last year but then realized it would be a conflict of interest.
She said that, in 2017, when the Guilford County Board of Commissioners failed to back the major downtown stadium project in High Point, it left a lot of citizens in that area feeling neglected by the county.
“I am pro-catalyst project,” she said of the undertaking meant to revitalize that city’s downtown through public and private investment.
When it comes to Guilford County-High Point relations, the High Point downtown catalyst project was far and away the story of the year in 2017; and some High Point officials have suggested that Perdue wouldn’t be facing a primary challenge if the commissioners had approved the financial support High Point requested for the stadium that’s expected to open in May of next year.
The commissioners – both Republicans and Democrats – say they didn’t provide support for the project because they had questions about its financial viability as well as about the planning process. They also said the tax base numbers presented to justify the need for the stadium were incorrect.
Attacks back and forth between county leaders and city officials got personal, and – while some commissioners have said publicly that they want to revisit the stadium funding issue in 2018 – the Board of Commissioners has for the most part maintained complete radio silence on stadium support since September 2017.
During that debate, Perdue stayed mostly out of the fray, but, regardless, some major project backers in High Point didn’t like the fact that, when Guilford County Commissioner Carlvena Foster made the motion to fund the stadium, Perdue and Commissioner Hank Henning – who represent districts that include parts of High Point – didn’t support her motion. Foster’s motion died for lack of a second.
Tillery said that, even before Guilford County opted out of supporting the stadium, she was concerned about the county’s treatment of High Point and was considering getting involved politically. She said the stadium dispute helped her make her decision.
“I don’t want to use a catchphrase, but that was the nail in the coffin,” Tillery said.
Perdue said he tries to represent his constituents in High Point and the rest of his district well. He added that he also has to keep a focus on what’s good for Guilford County as a whole.
“I’ve spent my career in the service of 650 square miles of Guilford County regardless of where the political lines are,” he said.
Perdue added that the county has provided solid support to High Point in many ways, including funding for the city’s international furniture market each year and financial backing for new High Point Family Justice Center now under construction.
Tillery said the city is finally getting a family justice center – but only years after Greensboro got one. In the future, she said, she’d like to see the services that her city gets more on par with what Greensboro gets.
“If I can be a stronger voice for High Point, that will be my ultimate goal,” Tillery said.
She also said High Point schools don’t always get their fair share of resources. That’s a school board issue but she said she’d like to help the schools in her district get the funding they need.
“Obviously education is a huge issue,” Tillery said.
Perdue pointed out that the Republican-led board he sits on has increased county funding to the schools every year he’s served on the board.
Like Perdue, Tillery said her work experience will help when it comes to being a commissioner. Tillery said her work – nonprofit fundraising to help combat child abuse – is “not the most glamorous work,” but she added that it has given her an opportunity to interact with people from all walks of life. She said that gives her perspective on how people can come together and find solutions. She said the secret to societal problems often relies on that unity of purpose across many groups.
Perdue serves on a county committee that is attempting to address the drug abuse problem and related issues.
“I’m currently working on trying to enhance our mental health situation,” Perdue said. “The key thing for me is simplifying access to service. The more we can streamline it, the better.”
Tillery said that, when it comes right down to it, the area needs a representative who is interacting well with the people of the district.
“I’ve tried to go to has many community events as I can,” she said.
She said she doesn’t see Perdue at High Point events and meetings. For instance, she said, he wasn’t at the recent ground breaking ceremony for the High Point stadium. She said many people in High Point aren’t familiar with Perdue.
“I couldn’t have even told you who he was,” Tillery said of the time before she got into the race. “I know Carlvena. She is typically there. She is involved in events. But I couldn’t have told you who he was.”
Tillery said she would work with the board to get taxes down if she is elected. She said she is “fiscally conservative” and doesn’t want to see a tax increase, but she added that when it comes to tax increases – or many other things in life – one should “never say never.”
Tillery said a special set of circumstances could always arise that make a tax increase necessary.
Perdue said one thing he’s proud of in the last four years is that the Board of Commissioners has been very professional in conducting its business.
“We’ve created dialogue between Democrats and Republicans and we can disagree without being disagreeable,” Perdue said.
Tillery said she’s doing what she can in the days before the election to get her supporters to the polls and she said her campaign has attempted to tightly target Republican voters.
“I’ve been doing some door knocking,” she said, adding that she has doorknob hangers for those who aren’t home.
“I let them know I am committed to the community,” she said.
Perdue, who has two children and two grandchildren, was born at Wesley Long Hospital in Greensboro and has a bachelor’s degree in management and ethics from John Wesley College. In addition to his work with Guilford County Emergency Services, he has served 12 years as the governor’s appointee on the North Carolina Building Code Council representing the North Carolina Fire Service and eight years on the International Association of Fire Chiefs board of directors.
Tillery, who was born in Winston-Salem, graduated from Western Carolina University before getting her MBA from Wingate University. She’s a stepmother to three boys and one girl in addition to her job with SCAN where she does a good deal of fundraising.
Jones, who in November will face the winner of the Republican primary, is 45 and lives in Pleasant Garden. He has run twice for the North Carolina House District 59 seat now held by Rep. John Hardister. In 2012, Jones ran and lost in the Republican primary for governor.