Featured photo: (L-R) Kay Cashion, Greg Drumwright, Alan Branson, Alvin Robinson
In addition to city council, school board and sheriff elections, Guilford County residents will also have to vote to choose their top candidates for four county commission seats this year.
The Guilford County Board of Commissioners is comprised of nine total seats, including a chairperson and vice chair who are chosen every December to serve the upcoming year. County commissioners are responsible for adopting the annual county budget and establishing the property tax rate as well as adopting local laws. During the pandemic, the county commissioners also acted as the county Board of Health to pass mask mandates countywide.
Commissioners serve staggered four-year terms and are elected by district and at-large on even numbered years. This year, seats for at-large, District 2, District 3 and District 7 are up for grabs. In the at-large race, incumbent Kay Cashion looks to hold her seat against Greg Drumwright in the Democratic primary while Alan Branson and Alvin Robinson face off in the Republican primary. Triad City Beat asked all four candidates about their priorities and the biggest issues facing Guilford County as well as their experience working with large budgets. Responses are listed by party affiliation and by last name starting with the incumbent.
Kay Cashion (i)
Longtime incumbent who touts years of experience
Kay Cashion has been on the board of county commissioners since 2004 when she was appointed to replace Democrat Jeff Thigpen who went on to become the county’s register of deeds. Prior to taking up elected office, Cashion was known in the community for her work in the furnishings and decorating business. She has also been a strong advocate for victims of domestic violence, particularly through her work with Clara House, a shelter run by the Family Service of the Piedmont.
When asked why she was running for a fifth term, Cashion noted her 17 years of experience on the board as well as her time as the owner of Cashion’s Furniture & Decorating.
“I have the time, energy, enthusiasm and experience to continue being a steward of our county’s resources and will devote the attention the county needs and deserves,” she said. “My business background and skills honed as a community volunteer serve me well in decision making whether fiscal or people related.”
Some of her proudest achievements of the last 17 years include instituting and facilitating the first county citizen’s academy in 2011, leading a study on substance abuse in young adults in the county and another on family and domestic violence which led to the establishment of two family justice centers, and serving as a member of the committee that studied ways to improve the county’s behavioral health services.
The biggest challenges facing Guilford County, in Cashion’s opinion, include fiscal challenges for providing services, the mental-health and substance-abuse crisis and housing affordability for vulnerable populations.
“We will need to be diligent in budget priorities yet planning for current and long-term needs,” she said.
When asked how she would work with the budget, Cashion pointed to her experience.
“I have been involved with county budgets for 17 years and have tried to be a good steward of our citizens’ tax dollars,” she said.
She also told TCB that she thinks the county should be spending more money on funding for schools and county facilities.
When it comes to the issue of public safety — the county commissioners help fund the local jails as well as the sheriff’s department — Cashion advocated for hiring the best officers and making sure they are trained in crisis intervention training. She also supported paying officers at or above competitive rates.
Pastor-organizer who led BLM marches and is focused on affordable housing, police reform
While this is just Greg Drumwright’s second time running for political office — he ran for the Guilford County School Board in 2018 and lost by 5 percentage points to Republican Anita Sharpe — his name is well-known in the local community for his efforts leading racial equity marches in Graham in 2020, as well as his recent efforts to seek justice in the killing of Fred Cox Jr. which took place in High Point in 2021.
After leading a peaceful rally in Graham on Oct. 31, in which officers deployed pepper spray at protesters, Drumwright was charged with two felonies of assault against a law enforcement officer and obstructing justice and three misdemeanors of failure to disperse on command, resisting a public officer and public disturbance. In September 2021, an Alamance County judge found Drumwright guilty on the first two misdemeanor charges.
Drumwright, who maintains his innocence and has said that he and his lawyers are appealing the charges, told TCB that the charges are an example of the kind of racist policies he has been fighting against for decades.
“What people need to know about those charges and my work with communities all over the nation and here in Guilford County, is that it stems from the call for a moral society and the necessity to look at our criminal-justice system and the disproportionate convictions and allegations that Black and Brown people have been facing for four centuries here,” Drumwright said. “I am grateful for that work to be a part of my calling.”
A pastor originally from Burlington, Drumwright represents a progressive candidate who has prioritized criminal justice reform as the main arc of his platform.
“While my opponent’s experience is realized through her 16 years in this seat, many feel that giving her two decades is too long. I am the best candidate because I represent a fresh perspective that uplifts voices who are not being widely represented in government.”
As a 41-year-old Black man, Drumwright said that he is a closer representation of the majority of voters in the county compared to his opponent. He also pointed to his work on the NC Governor’s Courts Commission, a body that studies the procedures and structure of the state judicial system and makes recommendations to the General Assembly. Drumwright has been on the commission since 2018 and was recently re-appointed.
In his opinion, the greatest challenges facing Guilford County include the housing crisis, appropriating the $104 million from the American Rescue Plan Act countywide and funding schools.
Elaborating on the housing crisis, Drumwright expressed concerns about the speed at which rental and utility assistance is being distributed as well as a lack of enough funds to begin with.
“With more need than funds available, and the cost of utilities skyrocketing, a potential housing displacement crisis looms over the work of the commission,” he said.
Drumwright also expressed support for passing the $1.7 billion bond that is on the ballot in May, which if passed by voters, will be used for improving schools.
“Funding the bond referendum to build state-of-the-art schools and renovate facilities is the change we need and the change that’s within our reach,” he said.
In terms of managing a large budget, Drumwright pointed to his work organizing local, regional and statewide campaigns for the last 20 years. If elected, he said he would focus efforts on addressing the housing shortage for vulnerable populations, working with nonprofits to help homeless individuals, bringing tech-based development to the county and expanding broadband in rural areas.
On police reform, Drumwright clearly stated that he was in support of reform, not a defunding of police.
“My father was a sheriff’s deputy and I have had ties to many members within the law enforcement community who are fulfilling their oath to protect and serve integrally,” he said. “However, the data is clear that people of color represent a disproportionate number of arrests, criminal convictions and deaths at the hands of law enforcement.”
To continue his work, Drumwright said he supports integrating more de-escalation tactics and mental-health training for officers.
Former county commissioner focused on spending more money on public safety
Republican Alan Branson is back, and this time he’s eyeing his former colleague Kay Cashion’s at-large seat. Branson first won election to the board of county commissioners in 2012 to District 4. In 2020, Branson narrowly lost his re-election bid to Democratic newcomer Mary Beth Murphy. During his time on the board, Branson served as both the chair and vice-chair. If re-elected, Branson said he would focus on bringing common sense and conservative values to Guilford County.
“I have a proven track record of eight years of service providing more for all communities while holding the tax base the same or lowering the tax base,” he said.
During his tenure, Branson said the board increased the budget for Guilford County Schools and the sheriff’s department. He also noted that during those years the county created the special ops building for the sheriff’s department, the Family Justice Center, the county mental-health facility, the new animal shelter and made improvements to county parks. Still, said Branson, there’s more he wants to do.
He said that he’s concerned about “bond debt” and “how it will affect the taxpayers.” He also pointed to repairing schools, homelessness and drugs, and building a better relationship between the public and first responders as some of his priorities.
When managing the budget, Branson said less money should be spent on nonprofits and “commissioners’ pet projects” and more should be spent on “agencies who are trying to keep peace in our county, state and country while following closely all situations and groups who are causing some of the discourse [sic] in our county, state and nation.”
When asked about the Jan. 6 insurrection and whether or not he believes that the 2020 election was stolen, Branson said that “those who did any damage or harm should be punished or prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Former first-responder who views serving through a religious lens
First-time political candidate and pastor Alvin Robinson told TCB that he is running for county commissioner because the “Guilford County Board of Commissioners needs to remember that neither the board, or any other government bodies, is God.”
He pointed to the mask mandates and lockdowns as an overstep by the county commissioners that “violated the God-given rights of citizens to provide for themselves and their families.”
Robinson started working as a full-time firefighter from March 2003 until December 2021. He also served as a part-time deputy for the Guilford County Sheriff’s Department before being fired from both jobs in December after invoking a religious exemption against the county and city’s COVID-19 testing policies.
During his time as a firefighter, Robinson achieved the rank of captain while he mostly worked patrol for the sheriff’s office.
“My experience as a firefighter and sheriff’s deputy translate to my work as a county commissioner in that those experiences have given me insight into the real life, day-to-day circumstances of citizens with diverse backgrounds,” Robinson said. “The insights range from true poverty in communities to the need for the personal responsibility citizens should have for their own welfare and safety.”
One of Robinson’s main concerns is poverty within the county. To alleviate this, Robinson said he would work to “encourage fathers to be the first educators of their children” to instill morals such as uprightness and integrity. “This leads to less poverty, that leads to less criminal activity and less mental health issues,” Robinson said.
While Robinson said he does not have experience working with large budgets like the one associated with the county, he said that he manages a six-person household and he understands that “if the money is not there, we do not spend it…. There is no room for waste.”
One area where Robinson said there has been waste is money spent on the school system.
“While I agree that education is important, it is apparent that much of the money given to education has been used to develop programs said to help students,” he said. “However, I have been told that student participation in the programs is often low and even nonexistent.”
On police reform, Robinson outright rejected the idea of defunding and instead supported giving officers regular training in hand-to-hand defense so they are effective but can use less than lethal options.
Much of Robinson’s answers were tied to religion and his work as a pastor.
“The leadership and the citizens of Guilford County need to repent from sin and turn to God,” he said. “Our leadership needs to depend on God’s truth and wisdom for guidance on how to lead the county.”
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