Former Guilford County Attorney Mark Payne surprised a lot of people late last year when he announced his retirement.

That led to the Board of Commissioners promoting Chief Deputy Guilford County Attorney Matt Mason to the interim county attorney position, a job he held for the past eight months while the board conducted a search for Payne’s replacement.

The county hired Andrea Leslie-Fite – the former city attorney for Shelby, North Carolina, to fill the job – and her first day with the county was on Monday, Aug. 22.  That meant that the Guilford County Board of Commissioners’ meeting on Thursday, Aug.18 was Mason’s last before Leslie-Fite took over the lead position.

Mason is always reserved when he speaks publicly but there was a lot of emotion in his voice as he spoke his final words to the board before returning to his job as chief deputy attorney.

“I appreciate the opportunity to serve in this role,” Mason told the board.

He greatly praised the county’s legal staff, which – with the pandemic, other challenges, and Payne’s departure – had an increased workload.

“We’ve called on folks to do extra things in the office, and I want to acknowledge that and thank the attorneys and the administrative staff,” Mason said.

He also said that the to-do list that he started in January when he took the interim county attorney job is now at 650 items – not including social services cases or Sheriff’s Department cases.

“It only captures the ones that hit my radar,” he said, adding that that list vastly understates the number of things to be handled by the county’s legal department.

“A number of those items, as you might guess, are sticky or significant or one-off difficulties,” he said.

He thanked the county’s administration, department heads and also the nine county commissioners.

“You might think that you were the group that is most important as I give these thanks,” Mason said. “You’re not. You’re the second most important.  My wife is the most important.  Wow, I can’t say enough ….”

Mason said his wife has a full-time job and has been a pillar of strength for the family these last eight months.

He said the family has faced serious health issues and deaths during that time – in particular, on his wife’s side of the family.

“She has just been a rock and has not missed a beat; words can’t express what she’s been during that period of time,” Mason added.

Mason concluded by saying that he was pleased to vacate the seat for someone of the caliber of Leslie-Fite.