October 11, 2012
The citizens of Guilford County appear to be in a great deal of trouble because county staff has apparently lost the ability to understand the meanings of basic words in the English language.
This makes it very difficult for the county commissioners to govern effectively, because, for over 240 years ever since Guilford County was founded in 1771 county officials have communicated with each other in English. So the recent revelation that some high-ranking county staff have lost the ability to understand English is alarming to say the least.
One word in particular has caused a great deal of problems and argument recently. That term is "contingent," and the issue is the controversial rezoning request of 618 acres of land at the Guilford County Prison Farm near Gibsonville.
The request to rezone the property would affect land at and near the county's Prison Farm operations, in addition to most of the rest of the large 800-acre area. The move is for the land to be rezoned from Public Institutional (PI) to Conditional Use, Corporate Park (CU-CP). The signature on the rezoning request is that of Guilford County Manager Brenda Jones Fox, who signed on the line above the words "Property Owner." And on Wednesday, Sept. 26, Fox notified the commissioners that she was requesting the property be rezoned.
The matter was heard at the Wednesday, Oct. 10 meeting of the Guilford County Planning Board, which meets in the same second-floor meeting room of the Old Guilford County Court House that the commissioners do. That Planning Board meeting took place after The Rhinoceros Times went to press this week but, regardless, that meeting is highly unlikely to be the final word: A decision to rezone the property will be appealed to the Guilford County Board of Commissioners.
Speaking of the commissioners, it's the Board of Commissioners not the county manager that's supposed to make rezoning requests when the property in question is owned by Guilford County. So many commissioners were disturbed to find out in an email that Fox had decided to request that the property be rezoned without the request ever being made by the board, and without even having consulted the board on the issue.
Even though the Prison Farm has been the subject of a great deal of discussion lately because a large food distribution company briefly considered putting a $100 million project at the farm the commissioners never discussed or voted on rezoning the property. So, when the commissioners saw that Fox was requesting the property be rezoned at the very next Planning Board meeting, many commissioners were dumbfounded.
Last month, at the Tuesday, Sept. 11 Board of Commissioners meeting, Greensboro Economic Development Alliance President Dan Lynch informed the commissioners in a closed session that a supposedly large unnamed company was considering bringing 400 to 500 jobs to the county by opening a food distribution center at the Prison Farm. When the commissioners came out of that closed session, they passed a motion that was contingent upon the company locating a large-scale project at the Prison Farm as Lynch and others hoped.
That motion stated that, if a company gave Guilford County a firm commitment for such a project within 90 days, county officials were to take steps to develop the farm land as a corporate park and begin the process of relocating the Sheriff's Department's Prison Farm operations to another section of the 800-acre farm. That company, if it came to Guilford County, wanted to use 150 acres of land where the sheriff's main operations are largely because that's the flattest part of the property.
The Board of Commissioners passed the motion that night. However, just hours later, on Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 12, company officials informed Lynch that the company had eliminated Guilford County as a possibility. Around 5:30 that evening, Lynch phoned Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Skip Alston and told Alston the unnamed company had pulled out. Alston called Fox and asked her to inform the board. Fox called the commissioners and told them the news was "highly confidential." On Thursday, Sept. 14, The Rhinoceros Times reported that the giant company was no longer considering Guilford County.
The news depressed members of the economic development community as well as the commissioners who wanted the 500 or so jobs for the county, but the decision delighted others, such as many residents who live near the Prison Farm and didn't want the estimated 500 to 700 trucks a day going past their homes in what now is a tranquil rural area.
Since the commissioners' motion was contingent upon the company coming to the Prison Farm, and since the company had decided not to come, the commissioners thought that was that.
However, two weeks later, in a Sept. 26 email from the Planning Department, sent out through the manager's office, the commissioners learned Fox had requested the land be rezoned and that she had submitted the paperwork, and that the item was to be heard at the next Planning Board meeting.
Commissioner Billy Yow was beside himself when he saw that Fox had decided to rezone the property without any discussion of the board, and, when the commissioners held their next meeting, on Thursday, Oct. 4, Yow made a motion that the county stop the rezoning request.
Yow and other commissioners also had many questions about why county staff had decided to make such an important and wide-ranging decision without any input from the Board of Commissioners even though the commissioners are the ones who are supposed to be running the county.
At the Oct. 4 meeting, under time set aside for new business, Yow made his motion to stop Fox's rezoning request. Yow's motion failed 5 to 6, with Commissioners Bill Bencini, Paul Gibson, Mike Winstead, Kirk Perkins and Yow voting to stop the rezoning, while Alston, Bruce Davis, Linda Shaw, Carolyn Coleman, Kay Cashion and John Parks voted to go along with Fox's plan. But before the motion failed, there was a long and heated discussion.
Yow was very forceful and animated when he started asking his questions.
"When I received this memo, I was a little taken aback," Yow said. "The language of the [Sept. 11] motion nowhere speaks to a rezoning at this time."
During the discussion, Yow read out loud, verbatim, several times, the motion that the board passed on Sept. 11.
That motion states: "Motion to approve as a part of an economic development policy a plan whereby the County will agree to take steps to develop a corporate park at the property known as the Prison Farm and further agrees at this time to relocate portions of the Prison Farm operation and to restructure certain other functions of the Prison Farm operations in such a way to make approximately 760 acres available for inclusion in the corporate park. This is contingent upon: a firm commitment of a new industrial/commercial company locating on the corporate park property providing at least 400 jobs and at least $85 million in tax base within 90 days of the date of this resolution and accommodating the needs of the Sheriff's office to meet the ongoing needs of the Prison Farm functions."...continued on page 2