GREENSBORO — A judge swore in two new Guilford County commissioners Monday and in so doing, gave the board's majority to the Democrats for the first time in eight years.
But Alan Branson, a Republican commissioner who is contesting his District 4 defeat to Democrat Mary Beth Murphy, remained seated at the dais as county business was conducted.
In one of the first things to be addressed on Monday, the Board of Commissioners unanimously elected Democrat Melvin "Skip" Alston as chairman and Democrat Carlvena Foster as vice chairman. Branson abstained from voting both times.
For the time being, the board has a 6-3 Democratic majority until the District 4 race can be resolved. His protest of the election results, which show him lagging behind Murphy by 72 votes, is centered on 464 absentee ballots from across the county.
If Murphy's win stands, Democrats would hold seven seats on the nine-member board.
The board's balance of power changed after Chairman Jeff Phillips and Commissioner Hank Henning, both Republicans, chose not to run for reelection. Democrat Carly Cooke won Phillips' District 5 seat and Democrat James Upchurch won Henning's District 6 seat.
Both were sworn into office on Monday at the Old Guilford County Courthouse by Superior Court Judge Lora Cubbage. Both gave short remarks thanking voters and pledging to work closely with their fellow commissioners.
Only time will tell if this new era will be different for the Board of Commissioners than others. Like almost any other political body here and statewide, it's been split over the years by political differences and in-fighting regardless of which party is in power.
For Alston, this will be his sixth term as chairman, having served as board leader five other years before the Republican majority came into power in 2012.
Alston said his top priority will be addressing the surging COVID-19 pandemic in Guilford County with an effort that unifies the county government with the governments of Greensboro, High Point and smaller municipalities.
"It’s our problem as a county and the citizens are depending on us to come up with some solutions," Alston said.
The county should "put aside partisan philosophies and think about the people and not the party," he added.
Alston called a special meeting of the board for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday to address the COVID-19 response and the federal CARES Act funding that remains in county coffers.
Alston also outlined two other priorities in the coming year: school funding and county unity.
He said that the $300 million school bond approved in a referendum on Nov. 3 is not nearly enough, and that he will be seeking a much larger bond — as much as $1.7 billion — to be placed on the ballot in 2022.
"The only way that businesses are going to come here, they look at our schools first," Alston said.
He also said he wants to get all of the municipalities in the county working together as "One Guilford County."
"Greensboro did their thing. High Point did their thing. And the smaller municipalities did their thing," Alston said. "We have a lot of work to do, but we can do it. The task is gonna be hard, but we can step up to the plate and do it."
Contact Richard M. Barron at 336-373-7371 and follow @BarronBizNR on Twitter.