The tension level between Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Skip Alston and County Manager Mike Halford rose to a high level at a recent work session of the board – so much so that it made county staff and other commissioners in the room noticeably uncomfortable.
The rare – in fact, unprecedented – public confrontation between the two happened during a work session in the third-floor conference room of the county-owned Truist Bank building in downtown Greensboro.
Alston has made opening a homeless shelter before the weather turns cold this year a priority, but Halford told Alston at the meeting that logistical and zoning issues would mean the building wouldn’t be ready until well into next year.
Alston said it was “unacceptable” that the building looked ready, a service provider was in place and the funds were available, yet it could not be open in time for winter.
“We’re looking at life and death – at people dying,” Alston said to Halford. “How many people might die this winter that could have been saved if we were to have this facility ready and available for them to go into a detox, or so they can go get medical attention for an illness.”
Alston added that there were even homeless pregnant women and children who could suffer.
“We can do this if we make this a priority,“ Alston said.
“So, we hear you,” Halford responded, which is when things got more tense. “I need to be clear about this. I don’t want people to die, and any insinuation that I do needs to stop.”
Halford added, “We are working like crazy to get this done. So, I think we all agree – that there’s nobody in here that wants somebody to die.”
Halford said that, if Alston didn’t trust that he was making the effort and the correct moves, “then we do need to have another discussion.”
Halford pointed out that the county had several other existing programs that had added more beds for the homeless.
“So, I understand your frustration,” Halford said, “but I think we ought to celebrate the addition of 117 beds this year versus last year.”
Halford said he didn’t want anyone “confusing” real logistical hurdles with him “not prioritizing or not caring about somebody dying.”
When Halford finished, a terse Alston replied.
“OK, number one, you don’t make the decision – we make the decision, correct? So, it’s not about you, OK? It’s about this board and what we want to do, OK? I didn’t say, ‘Michael wants people to die,’ OK? This board – we are making the decision and we will tell you all what we want to do. It’s not about you making the decision. It’s about us making the decision, OK? So, I’m talking to the board.”
Halford said at the end of the work session that pushing the project any faster would likely require delays on other projects that the board also considers priorities.
After the meeting Alston said there was no deep rift between himself and Halford, but that he, Alston, felt very strongly about this issue since it was a life or death matter.