GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – A complaint over how Guilford County positioned and distributed information before the recent vote on a school bond referendum will get its first public hearing on Tuesday.

The Guilford County Board of Elections will meet at 2 p.m. to review an election complaint filed by Jerry Alan Branson, a former member of the Board of Commissioners who is the Republican nominee for the at-large seat in November.

Branson in April sent a letter to county and state elections officials to suggest that the county had broken state election law by appearing to endorse the $1.7 billion referendum for school construction and raised concerns about “the legitimacy of the referenda and enforceability of bonds that might later be issued.”

The bond passed in the Primary Election on May 17, earning nearly 60% of the vote. The Guilford County School Board last week began the process of spending the first chunk of dollars from the bond.

Former Guilford County Commissioner Alan Branson (NEWS & RECORD)

The Board of Commissioners in December had voted, 7-2, to place on the ballot a $1.7 billion bond to cover the cost of rebuilding, replacing and repairing a laundry list of crumbling school facilities. The county also has a referendum to add a quarter of a cent to the sales tax to pay for immediate school construction.

Tuesday’s meeting is what Guilford Elections Direct Charlie Collicutt describes as a “preliminary hearing.”

“This is a protest, so statute requires that it be filed in Guilford – which this was – and a preliminary meeting must be held as soon as possible (words from the statute) to determine if there is probable cause for a full hearing at later date,” Collicutt wrote in an email response to questions from WGHP. “This is totally independent of any other complaint filed on this issue with us or the State Board of Elections.

“The board could dismiss then or move to hold a hearing at a later date (where they could again dismiss or make a determination).  The hearing would have to be within 10 business days of that decision.”

Branson said he would attend the meeting, which will be in the McAdoo room on the third floor of the Truist Building, at 201 W. Market St. Officials said the meeting would be streamed at www.guilfordelections.org.

“I do plan to attend,” Branson said in an email. “We are looking at legislation that says you can’t use taxpayers’ monies to promote bonds in the county. Also to see if promoting on different levels was legal.”

Branson’s complaint

In a letter dated April 27 – the day before early, in-person voting began across North Carolina – to Chair Jim Kimel and members of the Gilford County Board of Elections, attorney Charles Winfree, representing Branson, had written that the county was “expending taxpayer funds and other government resources to promote a viewpoint favoring the passage of both referenda.”

His letter said that:

  • The county was violating state election law by presenting “unbalanced” information that failed to disclose public costs for interest on the bonds and to explain that a reduction in property tax to offset the quarter-cent sales tax should have explained that tax values likely would rise even as the rate declined.
  • That the county had spent taxpayers’ dollars on a direct mailing that appeared to promote the passage of the bond, which, he argued, would violate state law against government bodies spending money to promote a political agenda.
  • That Guilford County Schools had rallied school principals and teachers in an attempt to generate their support for the bonds even if they might not personally support the referendum.

Local matter

NC Board of Elections spokesperson Patrick Gannon said at the time that the complaint “would not fall under the jurisdiction of the boards of elections.”

Branson said at the time that he was concerned about who is paying for the promotion of the bond referendum and how many of the taxpayers’ dollars might be going into the effort.

“Who is is paying for the mailers, the signage on the streets, the flyers they are handing out?” he said. “Who is paying staff to put on the website? Is it Guilford County Schools through a slush fund? Is it the board of commissioners? We are going to get to the bottom of it. I’ve been around. I know how this game is played”