“All right, Mr. DeMille – Guilford County is ready for its close-up.”

Guilford County Manager Mike Halford had quite a few bombshells in his proposed 2021-2022 county budget and one of the biggest is that, if he gets his way, Guilford County will for the first time establish a Public Relations Department at a cost of a half-million dollars a year. 

Guilford County has talked for years and years about improving its public-facing image – think Wake County and Mecklenburg County-envy – and on Thursday night, May 20, Halford proposed to do that in a big way.

In his budget message to the Board of Commissioners on his proposed 2021-2022 budget, Halford stated, “Guilford County values transparent, open, and frequent communication.  This includes active engagement with our residents and our internal team members.  To allow the county to provide this higher level of service, the budget recommends allocating $500,000 to create a new Public Relations Department to enhance the county’s ability to communicate with, learn from, and, in turn, design more effective services for our residents.”

Fifteen years ago, the county’s public relations efforts were handled almost entirely by beloved former Clerk to the Board Effie Varitimidis and equally beloved Deputy Clerk Crystal Maurer.  One of the biggest steps for creating a positive public image at that time was pulling out and dusting off an old podium with a county seal that officials began standing behind when they had a press conference.  The county has added a few positions over the years meant to help out with PR, but this new proposal would up the game to a whole new level.

And it’s a very good bet it will make it into the final budget the commissioners approve next month. Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Skip Alston said after the meeting that he favors the move, so that’s a very good indication that it will happen.

 The $500,000 annual expenditure will be used to add four new county positions – a public relations director and three support staff positions.

It will also cover “operating support to improve overall public communication efforts, to coordinate internal communications, and to develop consistent branding for the county.”

It’s somewhat ironic that former Guilford County Manager Marty Lawing fought for years to no avail under a Republican-majority Board of Commissioners to strengthen the county’s public relations operations – and now, in the first budget after his exit in December, the county will likely get exactly that.