December 27, 2012
The most important event in Guilford County
politics in 2012 happened in 2011.
That's because 2011 is the year Republican legislators in Raleigh shrunk the Guilford County
Board of Commissioners from 11 members to nine and drew new district lines that made it likely that Guilford County
would be run by a Republican majority for years to come. Going into the November election, many people thought Guilford County
might remain a county controlled by Democrats. However, in hindsight, it turns out the Republicans in Raleigh did their work well.
Before that change, Guilford County
had the largest board of any county in the state not to mention one of the most contentious. Now the board should be a little more manageable and a little calmer. Many other changes have taken place this year as well, as a result of Guilford County
's radical political makeover.
In early 2012, it looked like Guilford County
's new board structure might be in jeopardy due to a lawsuit over a lack of representation in a newly formed District 6. However, on Thursday, Feb. 23, US District Court Middle District of North Carolina Judge William Osteen slated an election to provide representation for District 6 while keeping the basic structure of the redistricting in place.
On Tuesday, Nov. 6, the Republican plan that had begun a year and a half earlier in Raleigh was hatched in Guilford County
In the election, former Democratic Commissioner Kirk Perkins, who had been a commissioner for eight years, lost to Republican newcomer Alan Branson in District 4, and, in a big shocker for many political observers, Paul Gibson, a highly popular at-large commissioner for the previous eight years, lost the District 5 race to Republican Jeff Phillips a candidate whose only prior political experience was a failed congressional race two years earlier.
Those two victories, along with Republican Hank Henning's defeat of Linda Kellerman in District 6, gave the Republicans a 5-to-4 majority on the board which hadn't seen a Republican majority in 14 years.
The new board proceeded to elect a Republican chairman, Linda Shaw, as well as a Republican vice chairman, Bill Bencini.
So Guilford County
government at the end of 2012 looks markedly different than it did at the start of the year.
As important as the new arrivals were to the board in 2012, the departure of the commissioners who had been a part of the board for many years was even more profound.
Gone was Commissioner Skip Alston, who had served on the board for 20 years and been chairman for the last four. Also gone was 12-year Commissioner Billy Yow, the county's fiery conservative counterweight to the liberal Alston.
Commissioners John Parks and Mike Winstead were also off the board, and the new board which was made up of younger faces had lost 76 years of commissioner experience.
Citizens are still waiting for perhaps the most important change in county government: In 2012, Guilford County
Manager Brenda Jones Fox announced she would resign on Jan. 31, 2013.
Sometimes dramatic change is a thing to worry about. However, in the case of Guilford County
, big changes from the recent past are a very welcome occurrence. From October 2010 straight through the end of 2011, Guilford County
saw a string of one scandal after another and, at the beginning of 2012, it would have been hard to imagine that Guilford County
could continue to generate such an impressive number of scandals. However, this year Guilford County
government did its best to keep the scandals and outrageous actions at 2011 levels.
In May, The Rhinoceros Times reported that Fox, before announcing her retirement, had slipped into the board's consent agenda a removal of the cap on retirement bonuses for long-time employees such as herself. The commissioners therefore unknowingly approved a $61,000 bonus for Fox after failing to read the fine print in their meeting packets.
Fox then threatened to sue the county if the commissioners took her large bonus away. However, the commissioners still voted to reinstate the cap, thus doing away with Fox's large retirement bonus. Fox has not sued as of yet, and it will be interesting to see what she does once she's out of county government.
In June, The Rhinoceros Times revealed that Fox was under investigation by the FBI and the IRS for several questionable actions she had taken in 2010 and 2011 as well as for a shady deal she orchestrated with Wachovia Bank several years earlier.
The federal agents were interested in Fox's secret real estate deal in 2010, when she signed over the county's entire real estate acquisition rights to a High Point Realtor who, Fox claimed, walked into her office on a cold call.
The federal agents were also interested the highly unusual circumstances surrounding the purchase of a building at 325 E. Russell Ave. in High Point, which the county purchased, without any attempt to negotiate the price, from a close friend of former Commissioner Steve Arnold.
Fox was front and center on many other scandals in 2012 as well, but none of it was enough to get the willfully negligent majority of the Guilford County
Board of Commissioners to fire Fox. However, one commissioner finally made that motion in 2012: At a meeting in June, out of the blue, former Commissioner Perkins blurted out a motion to fire Fox.
Though there were certainly other commissioners who wanted Fox gone, Perkins' motion failed to get a second from the stunned board. Some commissioners said later they were caught totally by surprise by the motion. For years, Perkins had remained steadfast in his desire to keep Fox as county manager, and, as Perkins' critics pointed out, it was only after the election heated up and Perkins found himself in a tight race one he eventually lost that Perkins made the motion, which he did without so much as consulting other commissioners who he was well aware wanted Fox gone.
One particularly interesting major mishap this year happened when Fox, along with Tax Department Director Ben Chavis, worked very hard behind the scenes to open a county-run DMV office that would have operated out of the Tax Department's downtown Greensboro headquarters in the Independence Building.
The plan to have Guilford County
run a DMV office was voted down overwhelmingly by the Board of Commissioners once the board found out about it in The Rhinoceros Times but that was only after Guilford County
staff had invested many man hours and other resources into the failed initiative.
Also, because Guilford County
drew out the process for so long, that meant much longer lines than usual for county residents at the county's two open DMV offices. In August, after Guilford County
's failed attempt to open a DMV office downtown, a private vendor finally opened a new DMV office in Golden Gate Shopping Center the same shopping center where a DMV office had been shut down by the state in 2010 due to allegations of fraud.
In October 2012, the Board of Commissioners went into a closed session where staff discussed giving raises to 15 county department heads, seven of whom the board sets salaries for. County staff claims the commissioners approved the raises by consent. However, it's hard to know because there was no vote in open session as is required by law....continued on page 2