The open seat on the Guilford County Commission in District 5 draws four candidates who have centered their campaigns around funding education.
The decision by Jeff Phillips, the current chair of the Guilford County Commission, not to run for re-election has led four contenders to vie for the District 5 seat on the board.
Both Republicans and Democrats have contested primaries on March 3.
District 5 radiates from the center of Greensboro in and around the downtown area and then spreads to the north, ballooning out to the northern edges of the county, picking up all of Summerfield. The redrawing of the district by the General Assembly in 2011 favored Republicans.
Cyndy Hayworth and Troy Lawson are two Republicans hoping to reclaim the open seat on the board and maintain the Republican majority, which is currently 5-4.
Hayworth, who lived in Summerfield for 15 years before moving to Greensboro, is running for political office for the third time. She also ran unsuccessfully for city council in 2007 and 2011. During the day, she works as the operation manager for Midtown Financial Advisers, a position she’s had since 2016, but Hayworth has also held multiple positions on various boards at both the city and county level over the past 15 years.
From 2007 to 2013, she chaired the Greensboro Zoning Commission. In 2017, she joined the Guilford County Planning Board, a position she still maintains. From 2016 to 2018, she was chair of the Guilford County Environmental Review Board. Hayworth argues that all of her combined experience makes her the strongest candidate to succeed Phillips.
“I’ve been engrained in this community for years,” Hayworth said. “I’ll put my qualifications and my community service up against anybody that’s running in this race.”
Hayworth, like many others running for county commission, said her priorities lie in the board’s responsibility to fund education in the county. She mentioned that almost half of the county commissioner’s budget is allocated for education.
“I’ve been in the education system for 15 years and volunteered for 10 years,” said Hayworth, who worked as the CEO of Junior Achievement of Central North Carolina, a nonprofit that teaches kids in public schools about entrepreneurship and life skills. “Education is easy to sell. I don’t know any citizen that doesn’t want their school system to be the best. But you can’t just throw money at it.”
With regards to the $1.5 billion need that is needed to fix Guilford County Schools’ facilities, Hayworth said that she’s not against the possibility of putting up a bond before voters or even proposing a tax increase as long as the details make sense.
“Of course, I’m for any way that we can make the school system better as long as it’s accounted for,” Hayworth said. “It’s about the timing and the structure of it.”
Her opponent, Troy Lawson, on the other hand, did not say whether or not he would support a bond or tax increase to pay for the $1.5 billion need.
“Quite frankly, it’s a bit premature to state how we’re gonna pay for this,” Lawson said. “There’s a couple of ideas floating around, whether it’s a bond or a sales tax, and I am looking at all of those issues and how that may be paid for… the research is not all there yet. I need to find out more information about it.”
Still, he said that he knows that something needs to change.
“The schools in this county are in a precarious situation,” Lawson said. “I have visited a number of our high schools in the district and they are a mess, facility-wise. That is concerning not only to me but to many of the parents I’ve met with and some of the students.”
Lawson mentioned a few of the older schools in the district including Page High School, which was built in 1958, and Grimsley High School, which was built in 1929.
“Facilities is very key right now in my campaign,” he said.
Lawson said he moved to Greensboro five years ago from Baltimore, so his wife could be closer to family. He said that his priorities lie in education as well as maintaining the conservative majority on the board. Lawson was the first African-American chairman of the Guilford County GOP, a position he held from 2017-19. In 2018, he ran for state House District 57, ultimately losing to Ashton Clemmons by about 36 percentage points.
“The board needs a commissioner who the constituents can depend on and rely on to make conservative decisions,” he said.
Building on his argument, Lawson pointed comments directly at his opponent, Hayworth, who he said is not conservative or consistent enough.
“She can’t seem to make up her mind on what party she represents,” Lawson said.
In 2007, Hayworth ran for Greensboro City Council when she was registered as a Democrat. She also mentioned during her interview that she has supported Democratic candidates such as Kay Cashion, for whom Hayworth organized a fundraiser in 2014. Hayworth argued that her willingness to work with Democrats makes her the stronger candidate.
“I don’t make decisions based on political affiliations,” she said. “I don’t make decisions other than facts and what’s best for the citizens of the county.”
Lawson however, said that he doesn’t trust someone with Hayworth’s varied background.
“I’m not gonna put up with that in this district or in this county,” he said. “That type of so-called Republican hasn’t got the right to go up and represent the party. I am a person who is very consistent.”
However, Lawson did say that he’s not too rigid that he can’t work with other board members across the aisle.
“On both sides, people are working hard to make good things happen,” he said. “I don’t see why I would not want to listen and understand their side, and I hope they’re gonna understand my side. I have no problem working across the board if it’s good for the county.”
Two candidates will also face off in the primaries on the Democrat side.
Like Lawson and Hayworth, candidate Carly Cooke, also said that education is what drew her to the race.
“I decided to run because of the school funding issue,” Cooke said. “It’s a big part of the job that the county commission will be doing over the next five to 10 years.”
Cooke, who owns a real estate business with her husband, said that her experience working with the budget of her own company will help her in her role as county commissioner.
“I have experience working with limited resources,” she said. “I have experience making financial decisions.”
Cooke also noted her educational background studying business for her undergraduate degree as well as obtaining her MBA from UNCG.
After obtaining her masters, Cooke said that she decided to take over the financial portion of her husband’s business, which helped her to work from home and spend more time with her two kids. Hours of volunteering as part of the PTA led her to experience the county’s school system firsthand.
“I have been in the building and seen it from that perspective,” Cooke said. “I think that will be really helpful to represent the families.”
Cooke, noting the $1.5 billion need, said that she supports finding a way to fund the entire project, and said that might necessitate more than one bond.
“That’s the only way we can pay for those needs,” she said. “How we pay for those debts is the question.”
She brought up past attempts by the board to pass a quarter- or half-percent tax increase, but notes that they haven’t been successful.
“We would have to get creative about finding other ways to fund the debt services on the bond,” she said. “From what I see, it’s not obvious to me where that excess spending is happening, but I do think it’s worth looking at every single line item in the budget.”
Cooke said in addition to education, she is concerned about public health and increasing revenue in the District 5. She pointed to the new behavioral health crisis center, which is expected to open in 2021, as a step in the right direction.
“My hope is that that will be instrumental in reducing the amount of opiate-related deaths in our community,” she said. “That is something that I worry about as a parent…. I hope we can be proactive as a county in attacking that.”
Macon Sullivan is the other Democrat who has filed to run for the seat. He could not be reaching in time for publication.