The Guilford County Board of Commissioners is holding a closed session at the end of the board’s Thursday, Dec. 5 meeting, “For the purpose of consulting with the county attorney and to consider certain personnel matters regarding the board’s direct reports.”

The direct reports are those county department heads who are hired and fired by the Guilford County Board of Commissioners – rather than by, for instance, the county manager – and they are employees for whom the board also determines raises or rebukes. In essence, those county officials work directly under, and answer to, the Guilford County Board of Commissioners. For instance, the Guilford County Clerk to the Board, the county attorney, the county manager, the tax director and a handful of other directors report directly to the Board of Commissioners.

The board does do performance reviews – often toward the end of the year ­– however, in past years when the county has done that it has often done so in a separate work session and the county usually makes it clear in the description of the closed session that that’s the purpose of the meeting.

The Rhino Times has never seen the language “to consider certain personnel matters regarding the board’s direct reports” as a reason for a closed session.   Also, this closed session has the dual purpose of consulting with the county attorney. It’s not clear if the need to consult with the county attorney is connected to the personnel matter or is due to an entirely different matter.

Often, a reference to addressing “personnel matters” in a closed session means there’s a problem or alleged problem with a county employee – and issue that has risen to the level where the Board of Commissioners must get involved.

An email to Guilford County Attorney Mark Payne asking for more specifics on the nature of the Dec. 5 closed session didn’t shed much light on the issue. Payne said the new language was “just a bit more detail on ‘discuss a personnel issue,” and he noted that, “By the way, this is annual review time for the direct reports.”

The official reason being given for the closed session is NC General Statute, 143-318.11 (a) (6), which states: “To consider the qualifications, competence, performance, character, fitness, conditions of appointment, or conditions of initial employment of an individual public officer or employee or prospective public officer or employee; or to hear or investigate a complaint, charge, or grievance by or against an individual public officer or employee. General personnel policy issues may not be considered in a closed session.”

The mystery will likely be solved when the board comes out of the closed session Thursday night. If the commissioners announce raises, then that was at least one of the purposes of the closed door meeting, and if they say nothing or announce that a county official has decided to spend more time with his or her family, that will also be informative.