Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Alan Branson got an earful from the county’s three African-American commissioners over what they said were highly insensitive remarks Branson made in the Rhino Times.
In an article last week, Branson said he believed that the county’s discussions with regard to incentives, as well as to awarding county contracts, were too race-centric. He said he felt like it created an unfriendly environment for businesses when a company’s leaders come before the Board of Commissioners for incentives or for a contract and they are hit with multiple questions regarding the racial makeup of their workforce, the number of black executives in the company and other very detailed matters related to race.
Branson said in that article that, at times, he felt as though the commissioners were attempting to “micromanage” Fortune 500 companies.
Commissioners Skip Alston, Carolyn Coleman and Carlvena Foster – the three African-Americans on the board – had read those comments, were upset by them and spoke up about them at the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Thursday, March 21 meeting.
Alston said he represented an overwhelmingly African-American district and he had a right and an obligation to ask those questions.
“So if anyone comes to this board asking for money from the taxpayers, including from my constituents, I have to ask those questions,” Alston said. “And I am going to continue to ask those questions.”
He added, “I really don’t appreciate you setting the tone for corporations out there that it’s alright not to answer those questions.”
Several times during his speech, Alston made the point that the board’s majority consists of “five white male Republicans” who are going to make the decisions – and this appeared to be a case of Branson, Alston said, telling those companies, “You don’t have to worry about using African-Americans.”
“This is a sad day for this board, Mr., Chairman,” he said, “and it sets a bad tone for Guilford County for you to send dog whistles out there that it’s alright not to have African-American participation.”
Coleman likewise said Branson’s comments were very troubling.
“Even if you felt like that, you shouldn’t have said it to the newspaper,” she said. “You could have talked to us.”
She said the problem with America today is the divisiveness among the people and she added that comments like the ones Branson had made exacerbated that division.
The black commissioners asked Branson for an apology and he gave one.
“I apologize to all three of you,” he said, adding that he was a Christian who has worked diligently 52 years to serve those who are less fortunate. He said he was very open to anyone of any color getting the contracts that the county has available, but he added that he did feel the repetition of questions on race to the executives sometimes seemed excessive.
Branson also said that the jobs are open to all who wish to apply and he pointed out that Guilford County has now hired a new director whose job is to increase participation of women- and minority-owned businesses in county contracts.