At the Guilford County Board of Commissioners’ Thursday, Oct. 6 meeting, the commissioners plan to honor a man whose name is well remembered by longtime county employees and other residents – former Guilford County Manager Willie Best.
Best, who passed away this summer, was a key player in Guilford County government just after the turn of the century. He was hired at a time when the board – composed of 11 members back then – was much more tumultuous than it is now. At that time, the Republicans and Democrats were sharply divided on many local issues and the televised commissioners' meetings were sometimes referred to by citizens as “The Thursday Night Fights.”
One thing the board couldn’t agree on was on who should replace longtime County Manager Roger Cotten. In 2003, after a lengthy nationwide search, the board essentially started over and then chose Deputy County Manager Willie Best to fill Cotten’s shoes.
At that time, the board didn’t want former Guilford County Manager Roger Cotten to leave, but Cotten refused to extend his contract. After 34 years of working for Guilford County government, Cotten’s last day as manager was June 30. 2003.
In a very surprising vote, the Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to make Best – who was one of two deputy county managers at the time – the new county manager.
Best, who was then 48 years old, was the assistant city manager of Falls Church, Virginia before Cotten hired him to come work for Guilford County.
After becoming county manager, Best played down being the first person of color in Guilford County’s top administrative job.
“I’m a manager that happens to be black,” Best said at the time when asked about the milestone.
This week, at the October 6 meeting, Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Skip Alston – the first black chairman of the board – will lead the board in honoring Best.
Best started at a salary of $150,000 a year, which was a jump from his salary of $112,500 as deputy manager – but was roughly $18,000 less than Cotten was making when he left.
Best was described as “a passionately dedicated servant-leader” in an official statement from one board that Best served on for much of his life.
In addition to his work in Guilford County government, Best also worked as a local government leader in several North Carolina counties, including Wilson, Robeson and Orange counties.
He also served as a Town Councilmember in Garysburg, North Carolina.