Guilford County Facilities, Parks and Property Management Director Robert McNiece has left the building – or rather, has left the buildings, the ones he’s overseen the last four years for Guilford County.
McNiece, who resigned suddenly, served his last day of county service on Friday, May 18 after giving verbal notice to the county two weeks earlier.
Before his resignation, there was no outward indication he was ready to leave. Guilford County is in the midst of several multi-million dollar building and renovation projects, and, in recent months, McNiece has frequently been at the front and center of county business as architects were being hired, construction plans were being drawn up and property for new projects was purchased.
Guilford County is currently engaged in massive renovations of both the Old Guilford County Court House and the old jail in downtown Greensboro. The county is also near the start of construction of a new $12 million to $15 million animal shelter and is building a new Emergency Services maintenance facility expected to total about $20 million when it’s all said and done.
Several county directors and other employees said they were surprised by the departure, with many only hearing the news when being asked about it by the Rhino Times.
Several county employees who had spoken with McNiece said that he didn’t tell them why he resigned. McNiece also did not give the reason behind his decision when asked.
McNiece did say he was proud of his work with Guilford County and felt like a lot was done during his four years heading up property management for the county’s buildings, parks and open space.
“We got an incredible amount done and cleaned up many years of deferred maintenance,” McNiece said this week. “Also, I think the parks look better than ever and we opened up almost all the passive parks, with Rich Fork [Preserve] well on the way.”
Several Guilford County officials said they’re hoping the county will be able to fill the position quickly since it’s an important one and there’s so much county facilities work going on right now.
As the county’s property manager, McNiece almost always attended Board of Commissioners meetings, but he wasn’t at the Thursday, May 17 meeting even though he was officially a county employee until the following day.
Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes said that his staff was recently in meetings with McNiece over projects at the new jail and the old jail but said he couldn’t shed any light on McNiece’s situation.
“I don’t know why he left,” the sheriff said of McNiece.
Several county commissioners after the May 17 meeting also said they’re unaware of the reason or reasons.
Guilford County Commissioner Jeff Phillips said he didn’t have “any specifics” on that but he did have “some ideas” as to why.
Phillips didn’t share those thoughts but he did speak of McNiece’s work in his four years with the county.
“I think Robert did an excellent job while he was here,” Phillips said. “I think his strengths were obvious and he was very efficient and had attention to detail and that really allowed for facilities and parks and rec, from a fiscal perspective, to operate more efficiently. We wish him well in his future endeavors and really thank him for his service to Guilford County citizens.”
Phillips added that McNiece helped get more open space facilities properties open to the public than the board could have ever imagined possible in the last four years.
Commissioner Hank Henning said McNiece was able to talk intelligently about construction projects in very detailed ways.
“I appreciate the fact that you could talk to him at an engineering level because I come from the facilities world too,” said Henning, whose business focuses on providing HVAC and related systems for buildings. “And I could talk to him about things that I’m used to talking about every day when it comes to cost savings and things. Instead of just, ‘We’re going to budget the money and spend it and do the best that we can,’ we really got technical and into the weeds, and he was able to answer questions at a very high level.”
There were certainly a lot of trials and tribulations for the director of facilities and parks. A once rabid war over mountain biking at Rich Fork Preserve in High Point caused infinite headaches, and some opposed to bike trails accused McNiece of favoring the mountain bikers because he supposedly enjoyed that sport himself.
Also, it became a standard routine that anytime McNiece brought a new contract to the board for construction or maintenance, Commissioner Carolyn Coleman would grill McNiece relentlessly on why more minority architects and businesses weren’t used in the project. (Barnes said the main reason the downtown jail renovation is behind schedule is because the county spent extra time in search of minority architects for the job.)
McNiece came to work for Guilford County in March 2017 after working for four years at the US Postal Service as the facilities program manager. He and former Guilford County Parks Manager Thomas Marshburn mixed like oil and water and Marshburn left Guilford County for a job at another county for less pay.
On McNiece’s LinkedIn page, he states his key achievements during his time with Guilford County. One he listed was the implementation of a new facilities management software system, and a new organizational structure that “resulted in a 50 percent increase in productivity for building maintenance related work orders.” The LinkedIn page also states McNiece developed and implemented a preventative maintenance program that allowed the county to proactively ensure all building systems are in operating order.
One ongoing headache for McNiece has been the kiddie train at Northeast Park that some in the facilities department now refer to as “that (deleted)ing train.” The county recently thought it had the problem fixed by purchasing a new engine at a discounted price but that engine hasn’t arrived.
It’s somewhat alarming that Guilford County has spent seven years of staff time and well over a half million dollars of taxpayer money trying to get a kiddie train up and running at Northeast Park. Despite the major expenditure to date, the county currently doesn’t have working train or even a set of functional tracks at the park. That’s one of many problems McNiece no longer has to worry about.