Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Jeff Phillips and Commissioner Skip Alston should keep six feet of distance between them because of the virus of course – but, after comments by Alston at a recent board meeting and a response from Phillips, there may be another good reason for the two to keep their distance.

The tiff began at the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Thursday, May 7 meeting at which only commissioners, a bare minimum of county staff and three reporters were present. At that meeting, the commissioners were sitting at the dais in their regular non-pandemic seating arrangement and most commissioners weren’t wearing protective masks. During the meeting, at a time of the evening when the commissioners can comment on anything they like, Commissioner Skip Alston delivered an animated speech calling out his fellow commissioners.

At the televised meeting, Alston said that the state was now loosening up some laws for businesses but said it was important that the public continue to take precautions – something the mask-wearing Alston said many other commissioners clearly weren’t doing.

“I hope that everyone is still practicing social distancing, and I think, Mr. Chairman [Phillips], that we ought to lead by example – and we are not practicing social distancing tonight. I would hope that we would do that in the future. We – all of us – should be wearing face masks, and we are not six feet apart.”

The Democratic commissioner said he hoped that, at the next meeting, the board would “practice what we preach, because, we are not six feet apart and all of us don’t have masks on.”

At the May 7 meeting, the three Democratic commissioners present were wearing face masks while the five Republican commissioners were not.

Alston added at the meeting that COVID-19 was a very serious threat and the board with its actions should be conveying that to the public.

After the meeting, when Phillips was asked about Alston’s comments, it was clear he really did not appreciate the timing and content of the remarks, which he called “pandering” and “disingenuous.”

In an email a day after the meeting, Phillips wrote: “Isn’t there an old adage that goes something like ‘never let a serious crisis go to waste’? That kind of disingenuous strategy is obviously divisive and never helpful in the least, but, unfortunately, during stressful times like these, pandering becomes the order of the day for too many elected types, especially when the mics and cameras come on.

Phillips, a Republican, added that it should be obvious to anyone who knows him that he isn’t “one to jump to the demands of the alarmists, pandemic or no pandemic.”

“I certainly don’t need to be lectured about the importance of CDC guidelines,” he wrote. “It’s my individual choice as to how to exercise my personal rights with some common sense as I go through my day to day activities. P.S. Wearing masks is not a requirement, but recommended in public places.”

Alston, like Phillips, has been chairman of the Board of Commissioners more than once, and the two men have gotten into it pretty good at times over the years. It will no doubt happen again in the future as well.

“As for our board meetings,” Phillips stated, “if anybody is ever uncomfortable, they have every right to get up and leave our chambers at any time. As for me personally, I’ll decide for myself when I wear a mask and when I do whatever else I decide to do with my life – within the Guilford County commissioner’s chambers or out in the community.”

The current board chairman concluded: “This is still America. Home of the brave and land of the free. It’s obvious that some Americans have forgotten that lately.”