The Guilford County Board of Commissioners are the final say in Guilford County government, and often that means that county staff – like Guilford County Manager Mike Halford and top department heads – often don’t get their way.
A lot of ideas proposed by staff are shot down by the Board of Commissioners, and there are also times when the commissioners come up with programs and projects that staff would prefer not to undertake.
All that is especially true at budget time, which runs from the board’s March retreat to the day the budget is adopted in June. The county manager proposes a budget in May and the commissioners always change things up before adopting it the following month.
At the Thursday, April 7 meeting of the Guilford County commissioners, Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Skip Alston may have been anticipating the disagreements to come when he took a rare moment to explicitly address county staff.
He began by noting that the fiscal 2022-2023 budget will be adopted in about two months and he thanked staff for their hard work on the budget so far.
“You’re bringing ideas to us, but don’t be discouraged,” Alston told county staff in the commissioners’ meeting room on the second floor of the Old Guilford County Court House. “It makes you better; it makes us better when we have those exchanges between us. So, keep bringing those ideas to us, and the ones we don’t particularly like, we’ll let you know – and the ones we adopt, we appreciate those, because we always challenge you to think outside the box. And you’re doing that.”
“I’m very, very proud of my senior staff and all of our staff right here in Guilford County,” Alston added. “I just want to say that publicly. Because you all make us look good.”
It sounded as though the chairman was addressing some particular disagreement with staff but when asked about his comments after the meeting Alston said he just wanted to take time to thank staff at a point in the year when they’re working hard.
Earlier in the week, Alston stated publicly that he would not support a tax increase in the next four years – and some top county staff clearly think one will be needed in that time.
However, Alston said that nothing in particular precipitated his comments.
In the past, the board has had many major disagreements with top county staff. In some cases, staff argues that a program is absolutely necessary but the Board of Commissioners deem the project too expensive.
In other cases – such as Alston’s recent proposal to explore opening a county-run hotel for homeless people, staff agrees to explore the option but silently many of them likely think such an endeavor would be a logistical nightmare.
In one famous disagreement between the Board of Commissioners and a county manager, for years and years, former Guilford County Manager Marty Lawing asked the Board of Commissioners to fund an employee gym and wellness center. Finally, a few years ago, the commissioners agreed. However, soon after the facility opened, Lawing and Guilford County parted ways.