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GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – More than half of the members of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners are up for election this year, and one candidate is back after narrowly losing his seat just two years ago.

The board, made up of representatives for eight districts and one for the county at-large, rotates some of its members’ 4-year terms every two years, and there are five spots available this year.

Technically only four are on the ballot because District 1 Commissioner Carlvena Foster, a Democrat from High Point, is unopposed.

Current board Chair Melvin “Skip” Alston, who represents District 8, will serve until 2024, as will District 4 Commissioner Mary Beth Murphy, District 5 Commissioner Carly Cooke and District 6 Commissioner James Upchurch, who is one of three Republicans on the current board.

Another of those current GOP reps, District 3 Commissioner Justin Conrad, is not seeking re-election after serving 8 years. Democrat Derek Mobley and Republican Pat Tillman are vying to replace him.

In 2020, after voting districts changed somewhat, a board that long had been dominated by Republicans swung to a Democratic majority, which led to Alston and Foster, the vice chair, being voted into leadership.

One of the Republicans who lost out in that 2020 shift was 2-term board member Jerry Alan Branson – more commonly known as “Alan” during his 8 years of service – who had represented District 4.

In May, Branson handily won a primary (getting nearly 70% of the vote) for the at-large seat and is facing incumbent Democrat Kay Cashion, who had a closer race in the Democratic primary.

Cashion had been elected without opposition in 2018, and two years later Branson lost to Murphy by 72 votes out of more than 43,000 cast. After a litany of recounts and challenges, he conceded on Dec. 22, 2020, seven weeks after Election Day. He said that he had run out of time.

Also on the ballot this year are two incumbents, Republican Alan Perdue in District 2, where he will face Democratic challenger Paul Meinhart of Julian, and Democrat Frankie T. Jones of Greensboro in District 7, where he is facing Republican newcomer Kenneth Abbe of Greensboro.

Jones actually earned his seat in a special election in February to replace longtime board member Carolyn Coleman, who passed away.

Early in-person voting in North Carolina has been underway since Oct. 20 and continues through 3 p.m. Saturday at various locations, with the General Election on Tuesday. Through Nov. 2, more than 1.5 million votes had been collected either by mail or in person, nearly 80,000 of those in Guilford County.

Growth year in the county

Branson says in his return that he wants to “make sure that we spend the [taxpayers’] money wisely.” During the summer he led an effort to decertify taxpayers’ overwhelming approval of a $1.7 billion bond to replace and rebuild crumbling schools across Guilford County.

After the county and state boards of election rejected his bid, a judge ended those efforts in July. The rebuilds of schools that began after another bond was passed in 2020 have begun to take shape.

But the county also in the past year has been the benefactor of two significant economic developments: Toyota’s building of its first electric vehicle battery plant at the Greensboro Randolph Megasite and the announcement by Boom Supersonic that it will build its supersonic jet at a new factory at Piedmont Triad International Airport. Those two ventures will bring thousands of good-paying jobs to the region.

Those big pluses emerged with ongoing concerns about the quality of education, public housing and crime, although rates fell in 2021 across Guilford County.

The candidates speak

WGHP reached out to each candidate on the ballot. Many – but not all of them – responded, and some did so in much more detail than others. Those responses are presented as offered, lightly edited and formatted, with the candidates in alphabetical order. Incumbents are noted.

At-large candidates

Why are you running for the board and what are your priorities for serving? 

Jerry Alan Branson

Jerry Alan Branson (R-Julian)

I have proven leadership abilities from serving on the Board of Commissioners from 2012 to 2020. During those years I served as both vice-chairman and chairman of the board. My priorities are to oversee the Guilford County taxpayers’ money to make sure that we spend the money wisely, not haphazardly like the current board is doing. As a lifelong resident and a small business owner, I have seen the struggles many are facing. I will support quality schools of choice for families, continue to fund and support all men and women in uniform and support economic development for continued job growth.

What are the biggest pros and cons about the county? 

BRANSON: Guilford County has a central location in North Carolina and along the eastern seaboard, which allows for economic development and job growth. With our many college campuses in Guilford County, we are able to train and retain the best workforce in the country.

What immediate steps can the board of commissioners take to help address climate change?

BRANSON: We must continue to be diligent in creating a safer environment for all citizens of our county. With our planning and zoning departments we need to strive for excellence to create an environmental safety program with the latest technology in place.

District 2

Why are you running for the board and what are your priorities for serving? 

Paul Meinhart

Paul Meinhart (D-Julian)

I have a philosophy that is, if you want to live in a civil and equitable society, that you must be involved in contributing to that society. Running for this seat is my effort to that contribution. We have several challenging issues facing our society today: economic inflation, lack of affordable and healthy housing, hunger, food deserts and access to affordable healthy food, access to affordable health care and education, rising crime and widespread mental health needs. Better-paying jobs, climate/environmental issues, and so much more. Those are just some of the priorities.

What are the biggest pros and cons about the county? 

MEINHART: The pros: we have a very diverse population of educated, hardworking, thoughtful and civically minded people here. Our public school system has finally received some much-needed funding, and if the funds are spent wisely, will give our community a top-tier public school system. We (currently) have a great public park system and green spaces, low traffic congestion and a lot of projected economic growth on the horizon. The cons? An unfortunate amount of the population who are working to eliminate the “pros” I listed above. These same people also want to remove our civil liberties, eliminate a woman’s right to choose, take away voting rights from the people, eliminate the separation of church and state and to install an authoritarian government system.

What immediate steps can the board of commissioners take to help address climate change?

MEINHART: Thank you for asking this important question. Climate change is the most pressing issue of our times. We need immediate policy action to address this locally. We also need to act in conjunction with state, federal and worldwide organizations. Guilford County is poised for growth and development. We must ensure that we plan now for a sustainable, environmentally beneficial development for future generations. A few examples of what we can do locally: Transportation: Guilford County is large in terms of mileage. With projected growth in mind. More people + cars on the road = more pollution, more destruction of natural environment for roads, more resources spent on maintaining these systems, more traffic, etc. Our current public transportation system needs improvement. We should plan now for a light rail system that would link Greensboro, High Point, and Jamestown as well as run from PTI to these locations. Energy: Implement energy-saving building upgrades to existing housing and public buildings. Incorporate renewable energy sources to the existing power grid. Solar PV is the most cost-efficient renewable energy source available; we should invest in it. Environment: Locally, the “slash and burn” method of land development is rampant. Mass deforestation not only destroys ecosystems, but it also removes trees that would otherwise act as carbon absorbers and adds CO2 to the already overburdened atmosphere. What to speak of the smoke from these “burnings” that pollutes the air of the populace at large.

District 3

Why are you running for the board and what are your priorities for serving? 

Derek Mobley

Derek Mobley (D-Greensboro)

I believe the decisions we make as a county over the next four years are going to shape our future for decades. Economic growth is coming to our state, but it will go to the counties that are prepared for it. As someone who was born in the Triad, educated in our public schools and now works in a skilled job in the private sector, I am committed to being the best candidate to make sure everyone in Guilford County has a real opportunity for a similar experience. I am very concerned that if we do not invest wisely in our public schools and offer competitive pay to our first responders, teachers, and other public workers that we will continue to fall behind other counties due to poverty and crime. If I am elected, I will work with my fellow commissioners to make sure we rebuild and renovate our schools on time and within the budget, pay our teachers and first responders competitively and create a strategic plan for the future so that we regain our place as a top tier county in our state.

 What are the biggest pros and cons about the county? 

MOBLEY: Guilford County has a large network of colleges and universities that produce enough graduates every year to staff a Fortune 500 company. It also has a strong network of parks and museums that make it a great place to raise a family or to explore the outdoors. However, as a county, we also have neighborhoods with failing schools, high crime rates and poverty that need attention. We also have not planned well for our future needs or invested enough in infrastructure or mass entertainment options, and this has caused us to lose business and job opportunities to other counties. 

What immediate steps can the board of commissioners take to help address climate change?

MOBLEY: The state of North Carolina recently passed groundbreaking climate legislation on a bipartisan basis, and I think that’s something we should celebrate. At the county level, we can also do our part by making sure the designs for our new schools are sustainable, making sure our county facilities are energy efficient, and making plans to replace our vehicles with more energy-efficient options as they age. 

District 7

Why are you running for the board and what are your priorities for serving? 

Kenneth Abbe

Kenneth Abbe (R-Greensboro)

We need to be having real conversations about real issues that affect everyone in Guilford County, such as wasteful spending. Let’s look into why they are cutting projects that were voted on and approved. Our community deserves transparency from our government, mental health and substance issues, our low-performing schools and the increase of crime and taxes.

Frankie T. Jones

Frankie T. Jones (D-Greensboro), incumbent

My top 4 priorities are: (1) education; (2) health and human services; (3) economic development; and (4) affordable housing. More details are provided in response to the second question below.

What are the biggest pros and cons about the county?

ABBE: No response.

JONES: Two of the county’s biggest highlights are the Family Justice Center and the Behavioral Health Center, which are groundbreaking approaches with respect to domestic violence and mental health, respectively. We must continue to support both of these efforts. Additionally, Guilford County has recently had several big economic development announcements. We must continue to focus on attracting and retaining high-paying jobs and ensuring that we have a skilled workforce that can fill these job opportunities. Our public school system and higher education system (including both our universities/colleges and community college system) play a critical role in our economic development efforts, and we must continue to support and collaborate with these educational partners. The county’s support of workforce development efforts is also critical in supplying skilled workers for small and larger employers alike. One of the areas where our county is currently experiencing challenges is with respect to several key health indicators, including infant mortality and hypertension. We need to continue to dedicate funds to increasing access to quality health care through strategic partnerships with our local health providers, including the increased deployment of the county’s mobile health units. In addition, we need to ensure that our county has housing that is safe and affordable. This includes exploring options looking at a diversity of housing options and working with other local governments, communities and developers to identify solutions. The county’s recent allocation of ARPA funding to smaller municipalities for water and sewer infrastructure will aid in this effort.

What immediate steps can the board of commissioners take to help address climate change?

ABBE: I talk to a ton of people and climate change has never been a topic of concern. Our taxes shouldn’t be spent on global warming when people are struggling to put food on their tables and worried about keeping their loved ones safe. We can do better than what we’re currently doing. Government has infiltrated every aspect of our lives. We need to get back to limited government as it was intended by our Constitution. Most of today’s hot topics are all about control. People need to wake up and choose freedom. 

JONES: Immediate steps to address climate change include focusing on acquiring energy-efficient equipment when we need to replace old equipment. Examples include vehicles and IT equipment. Additionally, the new schools and renovations pursuant to the school bonds will be completed with a focus on increasing energy efficiency, which will also help to address climate change.

Who didn’t respond?

Although we sent our questions to all persons on the ballot and followed with a reminder, some did not respond, not even to say they did not want to participate in answering questions that might inform the electorate. Those candidates for the Guilford County Board of Supervisors who did not respond were:

  • At-large: Kay Cashion (D-Greensboro), incumbent.
  • District 2: Alan Perdue (R-Greensboro), incumbent.
  • District 3: Pat Tillman (R-Greensboro).