All nine Guilford County commissioners have the option to spend four days on the scenic National Harbor just outside of Washington, DC this summer.

While at least 6 of the 7 Democratic Commissioners on the board are taking the opportunity, neither of the two Republican commissioners will make the trip.

Commissioner Carolyn Coleman is the only Democratic Guilford County commissioner who has not yet signed up to attend the conference.

 The event drawing Guilford County’s Democratic commissioners in mass is the 2021 National Association of Counties (NACo) Annual Conference, which will be held from Friday, July 9 to Monday, July 12 and in Prince George’s County, Maryland. 

The cost for each Guilford County commissioner to attend is expected to be around $2,200. Some will fly and others will drive, with the county’s taxpayers footing the bill either way.

County officials who like to attend these conferences say the citizens get a great return on their money by sending commissioners and county officials to such events.  They say the workshops and seminars – as well as the one-on-one discussions with county leaders from around the country – are invaluable and mean that those commissioners who attend are more effective and efficient when they return.

The commissioners say they learn successful strategies on for dealing with all sorts of common problems and issues that have been addressed elsewhere in the country.

Critics of the convention trips, however, say they are essentially “junkets.”  Critics maintain that there’s more partying and sightseeing going on than local government education. 

 The true answer is that it depends on the commissioner attending.  Like a good college, you get out of a NACo conference what you put into it.  Some commissioners from around the country attend nearly every class and take extensive notes, ask questions and take the four days very seriously.  Others check-in to the conference and never attend a class or seminar but hit all the fun excursions and parties. 

Promotional material from NACo lists the wonderful educational opportunities available this year at the conference, but it also points out that the Gaylord National is “located steps away from the National Harbor Marina with dozens of shops and restaurants,” and notes that “The Capital Wheel and MGM National Harbor blends grand settings, luxurious rooms and world-class entertainment to delight you with a truly enchanting getaway.”

In addition to the county commissioners from Guilford County, Mike Halford, the new Guilford County manager, is expected to attend.

As a rule, this century, in Guilford County, Democratic commissioners have been much more likely than Republican commissioners to make this sort of trip. In the past, some Republican commissioners have said it made sense for one or two commissioners to attend – perhaps the chair and vice-chair of the board – and for them to bring back a report to the full board.  However, they argue, there’s no point in a whole contingent from Guilford County making the trip.

Republican Commissioner Justin Conrad pointed out this week that he has never attended one of these conferences.