Once is not enough for the Guilford County Board of Commissioners.
On Monday, Dec. 5, a majority of the commissioners voted to make Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Jeff Phillips chairman once again, and make Vice Chairman Alan Branson the vice chair again.
Both men were elected to the Board of Commissioners in 2012 and then elected by fellow commissioners to their leadership positions on the board last December.
The election of the chairman and vice chairman took place at a largely ceremonial morning meeting at which newly elected commissioners and other county officials were sworn in.
At that meeting, Phillips and Branson – along with Commissioners Hank Henning and Ray Trapp – were also sworn back into office.
Guilford County Register of Deeds Jeff Thigpen and 24 members of his staff were sworn in for another four years as well.
The commissioners’ meeting room on the second floor of the Old Guilford County Court House was decorated with poinsettias and greenery, and Christmas music played over the speakers before the meeting, creating a festive atmosphere. A nice breakfast buffet in the foyer, which many attendees enjoyed after the business at hand was complete, also helped make the event more of a Christmas party than a meeting.
Last year, Phillips and Branson were elected chairman and vice chairman unanimously, on a 6-to-0 vote, but that wasn’t quite as congenial as it sounds. There are nine commissioners, not six, and three of them – Ray Trapp, Carlvena Foster and Carolyn Coleman, the three black commissioners – were no shows at that meeting, likely as a form of protest.
This year, on Dec. 5, the three black commissioners, all Democrats, not only showed up – they also nominated opposing choices for chairman and vice chair. Coleman nominated Trapp to be chairman and Trapp nominated Foster to be vice chair. However, both of those motions failed on a 3-to-6 vote with the board’s three black commissioners voting for those candidates, but the five white Republicans and one white Democrat, Kay Cashion, voting against.
Commissioner Cashion, the board’s only white Democratic commissioner, voted against her fellow Democrats in those two cases and voted for Phillips and Branson, which gave them their 6-to-3 victories.
After being reelected to their respective leadership spots on the board, each spoke briefly. Phillips thanked Guilford County voters, county staff and, most of all, his wife and family.
“Our families have been so supportive,” Phillips said.
“I can’t thank my beautiful wife enough,” he added a moment later.
The chairman also thanked everyone in Guilford County who voted to put him in office four years ago as well as this November. Phillips and Trapp faced no opposition in the Nov. 8 election, so they had an easy path to another term on the board. Henning won another four years on a very narrow vote that no doubt had him sweating for much of election night returns before the final precincts came in. Branson had a little more breathing room but that race also ended up being tighter than many expected.
At the Dec. 5 meeting, Phillips complimented county staff.
“Without you it would not be possible to do what we do on behalf of our citizens,” he said. “This is a team effort.”
He singled out Guilford County Manager Marty Lawing for praise as well.
Phillips noted that the commissioners often disagree on things but, in the end, he said, they have a lot in common.
“We do share core values,” Phillips said, adding that those serving on the board rely on their faith in God and try to put him first in their decision-making.
“We also share a deep and abiding passion,” Phillips said. “I’m deeply grateful for every person on this board – though we have our disagreements.”
He said that looking out for the interests of citizens is a responsibility he and other commissioners take very seriously.
“It’s an undying fight and it’s an emotional fight,” Philips said. That point was driven home by the fact that he got choked up while saying it.
“I thank God for the opportunity each and every day,” Phillips said of serving as a commissioner.
Branson also had some nice words for his wife, his family, county staff and the voters who put him back in office.
“I appreciate all the thoughts and prayers since we filed to run,” the vice chairman said.
He said the negative TV ads and political mud-slinging this election season had reached a level unlike anything he had seen in this lifetime.
Branson also praised the other commissioners, even the ones who didn’t vote for him for vice chairman.
“We don’t always agree, but most of the time – 90 percent of the time if you look at things – we’re on the same page,” he said of his fellow commissioners.
He also said he thinks the commissioners do what they believe is in the best interest of Guilford County.
“I look forward to striving to do the best for all of the citizens of Guilford County, not just District 4,” he said, referring to the large district he represents that includes much of eastern Guilford County.
Branson also gave special thanks “to all of our volunteers who braved the elements to get us elected.”
“The folks who give their time, who work these polls – they don’t have to do that,” he said.
He said he looked forward to serving the community for another four years and he hoped to get closer to God in that time.
“May God bless you and merry Christmas,” Branson concluded.
Trapp also had words for those in attendance.
“I’d like to thank God for putting me in this role to serve and being a voice for the voiceless,” Trapp said.
He said it meant so much to him to be able to represent the constituents of east Greensboro, given that that’s where he was born, raised and now lived. Trapp said he had read Malcolm X at the age of 8 and that had given him a fire and purpose in life.
He also acknowledged the presence of Greensboro City Councilmember Sharon Hightower, who was in the audience.
“We fight for the same constituency,” Trapp said.
Trapp added that his father had just passed away four years ago and he said he thought his father would be proud of his last four years on the board.
“That truly means the world to me,” Trapp said, adding, “I’m going to sit up here and I’m going to continue to run my mouth for four more years.”
Henning used the time to thank his family, singling out his wife, Stormy. He said the past four years have been gratifying and he felt as though the board had made real progress running the county in that time.
“I really look forward to another four,” he said. “We’ve done a lot to put this county down the right road.”
The commissioners weren’t the only ones starting out on new four-year terms; reelected Register of Deeds Jeff Thigpen – who faced no opposition in this last election – also spoke briefly at the meeting. Thigpen served as a commissioner before being elected register of deeds in 2004 and he knew the room well.
“As a former commissioner and the register of deeds, this is something of sacred ground for me,” he said of the meeting room.
He praised his staff of 24 employees who were sworn in with him.
“They do their jobs with dignity and honor,” Thigpen said of his employees, adding that he was honored to serve with them. He said wanted to thank the voters of Guilford County for giving him that honor.
At the Dec. 5 meeting, the board also adopted a 2017 meeting calendar and approved a few other perfunctory motions related to the coming year.
Phillips said after the meeting that he was looking forward to the next year as chairman and that he was anxious to work with the largely new school board and continue economic development efforts that Guilford County has started.
Phillips said it would have been nice if the vote for him and Branson had been unanimous.
“At least they showed up this time,” he said of the three commissioners who were no shows last year.