January 17, 2013It turns out those of us who spent a good part of last year trying to help Republicans win a majority on the Guilford County Board of Commissioners might as well have spent that time on the golf course, the tennis court or maybe in some dark – but no longer smoky – bar.
The new Republican majority is behaving just like the old Democratic majority under the thumb of former Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Skip Alston. In fact, Alston attended the retreat last week and Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Linda Shaw said she was still mad at him for not running.
Really? Shaw wants him on the board so that he can continue the liberal spending practices of the last 20 years that got the county in the fiscal shape it's in now and she is the commissioner that the Republicans chose as chairman?
Last week the Republican majority voted unanimously to hire Assistant County Manager Sharisse Fuller as acting county manager. They gave her a big raise and a bonus for not retiring. There doesn't seem to be any end to what this crowd is willing to give to county employees. It would appear that none of them have checked the unemployment rate out in the real world. County employees should be thankful for their jobs, not demanding bonuses and raises.
Fuller is by all accounts extremely competent, but for the last several years she has been Guilford County Manager Brenda Jones Fox's constant companion. We wrote a story questioning why both the county manager and the assistant county manager had to be at every meeting, and wondering exactly what was the job of the assistant county manager other than to follow the manager around.
The idea that Guilford County would fall apart if it didn't have a full-time county manager is a myth. In fact, a good argument could be made that a county manager isn't really needed at all, but we'll get to that in a minute.
The problem with the new Republican Guilford County Board of Commissioners is that they have only done one thing in their first six weeks in office that the old board run by Alston would not have done. If former Democratic Commissioners Paul Gibson and Kirk Perkins had won, the only difference would be that a Democrat would be chairman and Shaw might be vice chairman.
For the Republicans to pick Shaw as chairman – who Alston picked as vice chairman and who was not just vice chairman but was clearly on Alston's team – was the first big mistake.
The second was not sending Fox home at the first meeting. It wouldn't have made sense to fire Fox since due to her contract that would have cost the county over $60,000, but the commissioners could have put Fox on administrative leave. It's been done several times before. It would mean that Fox would get her regular salary but would not come to work. Considering all Fox has done to bring discredit to Guilford County government, letting her continue to work is a huge mistake.
Then there were the illegal raises that Fox and Fuller gave to employees when they had no authority to do so. What did the Republican commissioners do? They made the raises legal and permanent and they promoted Fuller to interim county manager and gave her a big raise also. What happened to being fiscally conservative?
So if you illegally spend Guilford County's money to give raises to your coworkers the result from this Republican Board of Commissioners is a promotion and a raise and making your illegal raises legal.
And there is more bad news. There is at least some talk about making Fuller the next county manager. If that happens they might as well invite Alston to pull up a seat at the Guilford County commissioners meetings and run things like he has for much of the last 20 years.
At the rate this group is going, it appears the Republicans will vote for a 4 cent or 5 cent tax increase and tell us we're lucky it isn't higher, which is just what the Democrats have done for years.
So far I liked it better when Alston was chairman. At least you knew what to expect. Alston never once claimed to be a conservative. Alston is a liberal, but a thinking liberal, and he governed like one. What we have now are three commissioners who ran as conservatives but haven't found the intestinal fortitude to take one conservative action.
One thing the commissioners should look at before they hire a new manager is the salary for the manager. The Guilford County manager is grossly overpaid compared to other top government administrators in the area. It goes back to the days of former Guilford County Manager Roger Cotton, who thought he should make more than the superintendent of schools, so he got a huge raise. Of course, the county manager no longer makes anything close to the superintendent of schools because in spending no one can keep up with the schools. But the superintendent of schools has over 10,000 employees reporting to him. The Guilford County manager has around 650. The Greensboro City manager by comparison has over 3,000.
What the Republicans should do is reduce the manager's salary to something commiserate with the number of employees who report to the manager and the portion of the county budget that the manager actually controls, which is far less than half the total budget. The county spends over 42 percent of its budget on the schools.
And none of the other major departments are under the direct supervision of the county manager. The Sheriff's Department reports to the sheriff elected by the people of Guilford County. The social services director reports to the Board of Social Services, not the manager. The public health director reports to the Board of Public Health, not the manager. What used to be the department of mental health is now run out of West End, North Carolina.The Register of Deeds office reports to the register of deeds, who is an elected official. The director of election reports to the Board of Elections, not the county manager.
If the Republican commissioners want to do something conservative they should research what the manager actually does. They will find the Guilford County sheriff has nearly as many people reporting to him as the county manager, but is paid far less.
The only hope for some sanity on the Guilford County Board of Commissioners is for every conservative in Guilford County who voted for Commissioners Alan Branson, Hank Henning or Jeff Phillips to call them up and remind them that they ran as conservatives and should start governing like conservatives.