People used to call former President Barack Obama “No drama Obama,” but the former president and his administration have nothing at all on Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Alan Branson and the rest of the county commissioners.
For the entire year of 2018, the board – which has five Republicans and four Democrats – did a remarkable job of not fighting, or even being very partisan. For 12 months, with a few exceptions here and there, the commissioners came to their job, looked at the facts, rationally discussed matters and tried to arrive at the best decision given all the considerations.
In other words, the board was the polar opposite of just about every other political body in existence today.
Much of the time, an uninformed observer would have had no idea who were the Republicans on the board and who were the Democrats.
The year got off to a good start when Guilford County’s first official act of 2018 was to hold a press conference for the media to meet brand new Animal Services Director Jorge Ortega. Shelter operations had been a thorn in the county’s side ever since a huge animal abuse and neglect scandal in mid-2015, when the shelter was ripped out of the hands of a non-profit and taken over by Guilford County. In April, Ortega did something that hadn’t been done in over a year – he managed to get the shelter to pass a state inspection. The shelter did so with flying colors no less.
In February, the Board of Commissioners held its retreat at the renovated Morehead Foundry in downtown Greensboro and discussed everything under the sun – including whether Guilford County should play a financial role in High Point’s new downtown stadium. Though the group left that retreat sounding like something might be in the works to help out the city in the county’s southwest corner, the board never publicly brought up the High Point project again.
In March, April and May, budget issues and budget workshops dominated the board’s agenda and the commissioners banged out a budget that had something for the Democrats and certainly something for the Republicans.
On Thursday, June 21, the board adopted a $616-million budget that kept the county’s property tax rate at 73.05 cents, established a new county director position to increase the county’s use of minority and women business enterprises – better known as “MWBE” – and provided $750,000 for school operations over the amount recommended by Guilford County Manager Marty Lawing. That fiscal 2018-2019 county budget also gave money to some community non-profits and area economic development groups that the county manager didn’t recommend be funded – such as $25,000 to the Piedmont Triad Film Commission and an identical amount to the Southwest Renewal Foundation of High Point.
The Guilford County Board of Education had requested $206.4 million in county funds for the schools’ operating budget in 2018-2019. The budget adopted in June put the total county contribution for school operations in 2018-2019 at $202.6 million.
Like many political bodies in the state, the board pretty much took late summer off, but when they got back to work the discussions had one main theme: big-ticket capital projects. The board found out that a new animal shelter and an Emergency Services vehicle maintenance base would cost much more than planned. The commissioners also eventually abandoned plans to renovate the old jail since the cost had risen to twice what they originally planned, but they only did so after spending over $420,000 of taxpayer money on the project. Spending that much money for a project that would be tossed aside was probably the county’s biggest blunder in 2018.
One person who wasn’t around to take part in the county’s capital projects discussion was Robert McNiece, Guilford County’s former facilities director who resigned mid-year without saying why.
On a more positive note, in October, the county opened a new Guilford County Family Justice Center in High Point in the wake of the success of the Justice Center in Greensboro that opened three years earlier.
As for county staff, Guilford County Tax Director Ben Chavis was selected as the 2018 Outstanding Tax Collector of the Year for the state.
The board ended up saving the county’s biggest news for the very end of the year: Guilford County, along with Cone Health and Sandhills Center completely overhauled the mental health system. The three giant players announced two new buildings and a transfer of mental health services to Cone Health system.
In an extremely surprising development, the board finished the year without having a kiddie train operating at Northwest Park. That $600,000-plus project is now officially eight years in the making. County officials expect that ride to be running about the same time that Earth astronauts colonize Mars but the expectation that the train will traveling around the tracks at that time could be overly optimistic.
At the very end of the year, the Board of Commissioners found out that they may finally get some information on a $1-million school facilities study they helped fund at the start of 2018. That is scheduled to be the first major issue the board addresses in 2019.