On Thursday, Jan. 17, after a long closed session, the Guilford County Board of Commissioners came out into open session and took an action that no one saw coming.

The board added a new deputy clerk position to the Guilford County Clerk to the Board’s office.

The move was strange for a host of reasons.  For one thing, the commissioners almost always add positions at budget time – in June – and this was right in the middle of the county’s fiscal year.  Second, the board was clearly talking about the need for a new county position in closed session, which is an odd topic for a closed session and a questionable legal one, in light of the state’s open meetings laws.  Third, the action means that the Clerk to the Board’s Department has doubled in size in recent years.  In June 2016, the county added a communications manager position to the previously two-person department, and this new deputy clerk slot makes it a four-person department.

The Board of Commissioners gave no explanation late Thursday night when the board voted unanimously to add the position; however, after the meeting, Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Alan Branson said the move came out of recent evaluations of the Clerk to the Board’s office.

He said that Clerk to Board Robin Keller and her deputy clerk had been swamped with public records requests and he said that was one reason for the need to add a deputy clerk.  Branson added that Guilford County Communications Manager Worley Smith, the latest addition to the Clerk to the Board’s office, had many other duties that prevented him from handling those responsibilities.

According to Branson, the county has been inundated in particular by records requests from animal welfare advocates who have questions about the operations of the Guilford County Animal Shelter.

Since there is no money budgeted for the position, it will be funded with “lapsed salaries” – that is, money allocated to existing county positions that are currently vacant.