Republican Guilford County Commissioner Justin Conrad objected strongly when Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Skip Alston appointed a school spending oversight committee and refused to put a Republican commissioner on that committee.
The confrontation occurred at an afternoon work session on Thursday, July, 14 when Alston made the unusual move. The chairman of the Board of Commissioners is the one who has the authority to appoint members to committees, however, in all, or almost all previous cases, those committees have included members of both parties.
At the July 14 work session, the new school committee was presented as a committee to work with the schools in spending $300 million in school bond referendum money from a 2020 school bond. As the Rhino Times reported the day after the work session, the projects planned for $300 million are now projected to cost $450 million.
Several sources in Guilford County government said that, in reality, the new committee is being formed to help figure out how to address that problem.
The county commissioners were aware of the over-budget number at the time of the work session, which was no doubt why Conrad was so adamant about the committee needing a Republican – to ask the hard questions of school officials.
Alston told Conrad at the meeting, “I was trying not to make it political.”
Conrad, who is stepping down as a commissioner in four months, said that Republican Commissioner Alan Perdue, who served as Guilford County’s longtime Emergency Services director before becoming a commissioner, was the perfect person to be on the committee.
“I know he’s busy,” Alston said.
What’s ironic is that Perdue is busy precisely because people pay him to fly all over the country consulting on the same types of matters that would be immensely beneficial in the coming school spending discussions.
Perdue was not at the work session but was attending portions of it by phone with a connection that came in and out. During the discussion, Perdue did not take part in the part about the committee formation and there was no audible response from Perdue when he was asked to comment.
Perdue told the Rhino Times later he believes Alston should have asked him to serve on the committee since he, as former Emergency Services director, did have decades of experience in building code enforcement, school safety matters and large project oversight.
Perdue said he could hear some of the conversation, but did not push back at the meeting because he saw the writing on the wall. Alston had decided it would be all Democrats, he said, and the Board of Commissioners has a 6-to-3 Democratic majority. Perdue said he’s been around long enough to know how that confrontation would have gone – on this board, Alston always gets whatever he wants.
Conrad said after the work session, “Alan is by far the most imminently qualified commissioner to be on the committee.”
Alston said that, just because Republican commissioners aren’t on the committee, doesn’t mean they can’t watch and later offer input.
“Every commissioner can attend a meeting and observe,” Alston told Conrad at the work session last week.
(The school committee meetings are public meetings and everyone has a legal right to attend.)
If the committee does end up voting on matters, however, only the commissioners on the committee will have a vote.
Perdue told the Rhino Times that he does have many ideas on how the school system could save money on construction projects.
“If you look at Walmart, Target and other chains, they have similar designs for their stores,” he said.
Perdue said that that not only saves on architectural fees but also on maintenance for the lifetime of the buildings.
Conrad said the appointment of all Democrats to the committee suggests to him that Alston doesn’t want anyone on the committee who will raise difficult questions.