Sparks flew at a Thursday, Nov. 15 work session of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners when Democratic Commissioner Skip Alston erupted over what he claimed was a big change in the county’s plans due to the election of a Democratic sheriff rather than the reelection of Republican Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes.

For several years, Barnes has been pushing for the county to renovate the old county jail in downtown Greensboro for it to serve as the Sheriff’s Department’s headquarters. The department’s current headquarters is the Otto Zenke building at 400 Washington St. in downtown Greensboro and is, by all accounts, in very bad shape. The commissioners had, at Barnes’ request, put the project out for bids and gotten a price of just over $17 million – however, at the Nov. 15 work session, it became clear that the Republican commissioners, a majority of the board, weren’t prepared to proceed with the project.

A week and two days earlier, county voters surprised many when they elected Danny Rogers sheriff – and Alston said that was the reason the Republicans were no longer ready to move forward.

Alston stated that the Republicans were putting the item on hold even though the board was originally scheduled to vote on the move at a regular commissioners meeting later that night. He pointed out that the $17 million price was only guaranteed until Nov. 21.

“You know that after the 21st, the price is going up,” Alston said loudly, “but you don’t care, because you didn’t get your sheriff elected.”

Alston said the renovation project was recommended by Dan Durham, the county’s facilities director, and by County Manager Marty Lawing.

Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Alan Branson said at the work session that the price of the project had been creeping up; it started, he said, at $8 million, went to $14 million and then to $17 million.

Commissioner Carolyn Coleman, a Democrat, said the commissioners need to respect each other and “explain why we are not doing what we said we would.”

Republican Commissioner Jeff Phillips said, “This item needs further discussion – clearly.”

The board scheduled a committee meeting for next week to discuss the matter further.