County Manager to Retire in September

I was excited to receive notice a few moments ago that Orange County's Manager Frank Clifton will retire effective September 29th. The Board of County Commissioners will now have an opportunity to recruit a leader who can truly advance the values and visions of Orange County residents. manager Clifton's letter is below

June 27, 2013 

Chair-Commissioner Jacobs, Vice Chair- Commissioner McKee, Commissioners Pelissier, Rich, Dorosin, Price and Gordon - CC: John Roberts-County Attorney and Donna Baker-Clerk to the Board

Soon, I celebrate another anniversary of my 39th birthday.  My wife and I have decided to pursue challenges and opportunities that allow us to achieve goals we value together.  Hence, per my employment agreement (90-day written notice) I advise of my intent to resign as Orange County Manager effective September 29th, 2013 and register for retirement from NCLGRS thereafter.

As County Manager, I recognize not all my recommendations and/or actions were viewed in a positive light by everyone.  That is not unexpected. Doing the public’s business is not without criticism.  The intent always focused on the best interest of the whole County and its future.  Together we faced difficult issues, with actions leading to successful outcomes.  Not every decision pleased everyone.  That is the nature of the activities in which we engage.

I will attend regularly scheduled meetings and work sessions of the Board through the end of September continuing to assist the Board as required during the remaining months of my tenure.   I appreciate the opportunity to have served as Orange County Manager the past four years.  It has been an interesting and a unique experience.

Public service (elected or appointed) is both a privilege and challenge that comes with substantial personal responsibilities to all that choose to participate.  Private lives become too public.  Innermost thoughts become targets for disagreement.  Many may oppose a course of action, but only those serving roles as public leaders are held accountable for final outcomes.  Anyone may offer solutions, but in the end a limited few are challenged with responsibility for the ultimate decisions.  

When County Commissioners make decisions it is County Staff’s responsibility to make those decisions work.  You need to recognize and appreciate the true foundation for successful Orange County programs, services and community outreach comes from staff that on a daily basis serve the needs of the residents of Orange County faithfully, with integrity and a personal commitment to meeting the needs of others.  I hold the highest respect for County Staff’s ability to face every challenge in a professional and successful manner. They are highly qualified and dedicated individuals.  The County Staff make things work for Orange County and its Citizens.

I appreciate the opportunity to have known each of you individually.  Although we cannot always agree, I do think we forged outcomes that will last beyond our stay in the public light.  That is something to value as a memento of our time together.  My best wishes to Orange County and its Citizens always.


Frank W. Clifton, Jr.

Orange County Manager



There needs to be significant public involvement and input on choosing the next Manager.

We need a manager who is:

  • Someone who understands, appreciates, and is excited to be working in a county that is predominantly urban. Almost two thirds of Orange County's population lives inside of one of its municipalities. I want a manager who understands city government as well as he/she does county government, and who actively works to prevent conflicts before they occur.
  • Someone who understands, appreciates, and is excited to be working in a part of the Triangle region, not an isolated county in the middle of nowhere. Our next manager should be a strong collaborator, who sees regional planning and regional governance as a top priority. We are a part of a rapidly growing area of two million people that in many ways is functionally a single unit, regardless of where borders are drawn.
  • Someone who will make communications a top priority, and who understands what this means in a modern context. Issuing press releases is not communicating. Holding poorly advertised meetings in the middle of the day in inconvenient locations is not communicating. Creating social media accounts years and years after your counterparts, only using them for outbound messages, and not understanding the basics of how they work is not communicating. Embedding animated cartoon gifs is not communicating. The county has made some good steps in recent years, but we are not making communications the fiscal and organizational priority that it should be.
  • Someone who is willing to ruffle feathers and shake things up. Many agencies are decades behind where they should be. It's not just a matter of training or money, it's a matter of thinking like it's the twenty-first century. Our needs are fundamentally different than they were a few decades ago, and our understanding of how to meet those needs has changed fundamentally as well. The county has some absolutely phenomenal employees, and those people should be rewarded and given the opportunity to thrive in their jobs. They also have some lousy employees who need to be dealt with appropriately.
  • Someone who will make it a fireable offense to distribute a scanned copy as a pdf when the original version is available. Okay, I'm kidding, that's probably a little harsh, but it gets to my point about communications and acting like we're in the century that we're in.
  • Someone who is thoroughly committed to implementing progressive public policy directives from our county commissioners. The new manager should be someone who is excited to try new things, and who is willing to take flak from the public and his/her own employees when changes are made.
  • Bonus points for a candidate who is young, female, or a person of color. Speaking as a white male who will some day soon no longer consider himself young - there are plenty of us in local government already. It's not a deal breaker if the new manager looks (physically) a lot like the old one, but we should actively solicit diverse candidates.

Jason, love your criteria. Curious to see if/how BOCC will take this key opportunity for someone different. Until both OC & CH structurally change the idea that civic engagement means more evening meeting, both will be hard pressed to get an experienced, young manager with children. Female or male. All roads of CEO leadership in the public arena here mean giving up valuable evening time with a partner and/or children in this area.  Bilingual would be great too - huge Latino population (Burmese too!).  

It is clearly the purview of the county commissioners (elected) not the public to choose the manager.   Its also the commissioner's job to set policy and an agenda that serves the public interest. If that's not happening, its not the manager's fault. Jason -  your proposed "one-size fits all urban thinking" disenfranchises 40% of the county residents and a much higher percentage of county taxpayers.  (given that 65% of Carrboro and nearly half of Chapel Hill are renters).   And much of the towns are not nearly urban - even if the 2020 focus areas are fully developed (decades from now), there still a predominance of single family housing and low density multi-family housing. I do agree that our services need a massive overhaul- but the commissioners have to make that call. The ES Workgroup was a good start.  Better cooperation with the towns would be a big plus - but its hard to imagine citizen support for regional schools, social services, libraries, police and fire, parks, or solid waste or other county services.  Under the new state plan, Orange County is tied to Guilford not Wake or Durham for transportation funding  It easy to take shots at Clifton - but if you're honest, you'll credit him for getting the county's fiscal house in order, and moving critical things forward during very difficult economic times.   He protected us from potentially disasterous decisions, and started the process of detaching the business of government from politics.  He stopped the WTS debacle, fixed the Efland Sewer mess, and helped with the landfill closing. He started the path to developing the EDDs and with a few exceptions, the local communities are anxious to see results.    Of course there have been issues - but again, in my mind, the commissioners - not the manager - set policy.  Now its time for us to step aside and give the BoCC space to find Clifton's replacement. I hope the commissioners select someone who they trust to work with them honestly and openly, and who can contribute constructively to their deliberations.  Hopefully whoever runs the $220 million county will be able to leave the politics to the politicians and take positive steps to improve services and cooperation.   Bonnie Hauser

Bonnie, it is difficult to have a conversation with you when you insert unsubstantiated information in your response in a way that feels intentionally hostile. Take, for example, this sentence: "Jason -  your proposed "one-size fits all urban thinking" disenfranchises 40% of the county residents and a much higher percentage of county taxpayers."Please explain:

  • In what way is disenfranchisement occuring? Whose rights of suffrage are under attack?
  • Where does "one-size fits all" come from? Is this something that I said, or a judgment you are making about me?
  • Why is it implied that only people who pay direct ad valorem property taxes count as taxpayers? Do you feel that people who pay sales tax, vehicle tax, various fees, and their property taxes indirectly as a part of their rent simply don't matter in this situation?

I don't think anyone is disagreeing that selecting a manager is the commissioners' responsibility. But like any decision they make, citizens have a right to lobby them to make sure that their interests are heard. In fact, many of the people who I spoke to about the upsets in the 2012 commissioners' primary voted the way that they did because of a desire to see a change in the direction of the county when a new manager was selected. 

Jason - no hostility at all - just disagreement with misleading  and confusing statements. The notion that we are predominantly "urban" is simply incorrect. Even if you defined downtown Carrboro and Franklin St and the 2020 focus areas as "urban feel" (a stretch), most of our citizens dont live there.  WRT to ownership - only homeowners have visibility to the property taxes and fees - so they may see govt differently.    When you added the notion of regional governance- and a region of millions - I thought it best to come back to earth and remember that we have two school systems,  two library systems, two bus systems,  4 planning depts, 4parks depts, 4 public works department  etc etc.  Of course some regional benchmarks and best practices would be great - but that request would have to come from the board. Its not about you.  My comments were about the propensity in the thread to pile on the "blame the manager" bandwagon, which takes the heat off the commissioners. Its the job of the citizens to hold the commissioners, not the manager, accounable for county goverment - which as you know is very different than town government. In my opinion, not enough people know the difference.  The last thing I want is to see is the commissioners select a manager based on a pander to a bunch of citizens (myself included).    Since half the county budget goes to schools, they should get a chance to weigh in and maybe the town leaders. that would be a good step toward cooperation. Bonnie Hauser

I didn't expect to spark a debate about what 'urban' is. I'm sure everyone has a different interpretation if we go by look and feel. So I stick to one based on population density. Specifically, I use the census definition, since it seems like a pretty neutral source. By their definition, the majority of citizens in Orange County live in an urban area: in 2010, of the 133,801 people in the county, 95,625 lived in urbanized areas and 38,176 lived in rural areas. Whether you or I agree with their definition of urban is less important than acknowledging that it is a considerably higher percentage than most other counties in North Carolina, and that makes us different.Our population density and distribution do differentiate us from a lot of other counties. I'm not saying that's good or bad, just that I'd like a manager who is excited by the physical and logistical challenges of dealing with a population distributed like ours. Orange County is the 13th densest in the state (in other words, about seven out of every eight counties in this state are less dense than us), home to the 16th largest municipality in the state (Chapel Hill), as well as the town with among the highest population densities of the state (Carrboro). And the population center is very far south in the county compared to the physical center. (In fact, out of curiousity, I calculated the weighted mean center of population in Orange County using census tract information. It's about a kilometer west of Chapel Hill's Town Operations Center.) Whether we call it urban or suburban or rural, this population configuration is unique and challenging, and I want a manager who is able to handle that challenge. But the original point wasn't even about urban or rural. It was about the fact that most citizens in Orange County live in a municipality, whether that municipality meets your definition of urban or not, and that I'd like a manager who is comfortable working with consitutents who are mostly citizens of a town as well as of the county. I am therefore hopeful that the new manager will be someone who is good at working with other municipal governments, and thinking about how he/she can best serve all of the county's citizens, the majority of whom live in a town.

My list is much less sophisticated than Jason's. I want:1. a woman2. someone who will work with the town managers in a collaborative and cooperative manner without being a bully or a wimp (not a commentary on any current or previous staff) 

Hey, how professional is it that the manager gave the exact minimum 90 days notice? It's got to take at least 6 months to find a replacement, probably more. There's clearly no love lost between him and the Comissioners. No need to pretend otherwise.I elected the comissioners, not the manager. So I'm looking forward to seeing their leadership blossom while hiring a new manager and on many other issues now that Commissioner Clifton will not be overseeing things.

Manager Clifton was a marked improvement from what we had before, which was fortress manager and if I recall a woman. Whomever the Commissioners select they need to come with open eyes. I don't care if they are a man or woman but they need experience. We are a county that is and will be divided between urban and rural interest. Jason maybe you need to get off the beaten paths and see some of the back roads and simply life ( where government of any kind is not the answer to every problem) of the people.Bonnie talks about 4 elected bodies, which by the way are going in FOUR different directions most of the time. They ALL share part of the blame. Just look at the solid waste/landfill issue. For years elected officials have sat in meetings and asked what was the input from other elected bodies and there was always at least one elected board who didn't have any input or would wait until the 11th hour to put forth a nimby proposal. Maybe what we need is to lock our elected leaders in one room with bread and water until they can iron out all the issues they think they have with each other.

I have lived the majority of my life in unincorporated, rural North Carolina. But you're right, I don't live there now, and am not the best person to say if the needs of the rural areas are currently being met. What I can tell you with certainty is that many departments in the county government are not adequately meeting my needs and expectations, as well as the needs and expectations of many people I know. Some of those needs are related to issues that typically get tagged 'urban,' and some aren't. My point above, though, was only that most of the county's citizens live in a relatively small portion of the county (i.e. the urban areas), and that we need a manager who is well suited to addressing the challenges unique to urban areas. Most county governments in North Carolina do not have experience dealing with urban issues, because, well, they don't have a signficant urban population. I want a manager who has prior experience working with urban issues; that shouldn't mean to the exclusion of experience dealing with rural issues too. Of course every resident of the county deserves an excellent, hard working, progressive county government, regardless of where they live.I suspect, though, that how people evaluate our county government has far less to do with an urban/rural split, and far more to do with a split between those who seek a progressive government, and those who are satisfied with the status quo. I don't want a county government that's just good enough, I want the best damn county government in the state. 'Average' is inadequate. We have the capability here of being a visionary leader in everything from waste management to interregional planning to public engagement, and bigger conceptual issues too like eliminating the wealth disparity gap and radically reducing our contribution to global climate change, but we're not doing enough leading right now. Frankly, the more our state and federal governments fail to meet our social, environmental, and fiscal needs, the greater the responsibility falls to our local governments to pick up the slack.We've made some small steps on a lot of issues in the past few years, and I applaud those. But I'm ready for the next few years to have a lot more big steps. I was excited by the changing of the guard that took place last December in the commissioner's makeup. I am hopeful that having three news faces on the board will bring significant energy towards realizing many progressive goals that I've watched languish in recent years with good intentions but not nearly enough action taken. Selecting a new manager is a huge opportunity for the new board; I hope they see this opportunity for what it is and use it to find someone who will be a tireless workhorse for implementing a new progressive agenda.

Just wanted to say I take offense at the requirement the replacement be "a woman".  That's called discrimination. 

We don't need another itinerant journeyman who was schooled at Planning Central Services. The future will be more uncertain than futures inherently have been. We will be on our own in ways that we have not yet fully comprehended. The Federal and State governments are robbing us and leaving us to squabble over crumbs while figuring out how to deal with health issues, homelessness, crime, education etc. with less resources. Climate change has now moved beyond just an obligation for us to consider reducing our carbon footprint. It is directly affecting us with stronger storms and more persistent droughts.We are blessed with a relatively sheltered geographic location, a burgeoning local food system, a wealth of creative and engaged citizens, and an appreciation for the strength and resilience that the connections of a local economy provide us. We need someone who understands the unique attributes and opportunities we have, someone who has a track record of creatively enhancing a local economic network, who has experience with sustainable energy, water, and waste resource issues, someone who has a proven record of commitment to ensuring that documents, maps, and discussions are presented in formats and language that lay people can understand.Hopefully, that person is living among us right now.  

In reading this, I'm trying to figure out your definition of "urban"... Are you saying urban as those inside the city and rural as those outside the city?  If so, would each city/town governing body (mayor, council, etc.) not make the decisions within the urban areas?

Whether you take urban to mean "areas of higher density" or to mean "areas within the town limits," we need a county manager who is experienced at working with them. Some challenges are because the population density makes provisioning services different than they would be in a low-density area; some challenges are because the county must collaborate with the town. The new manager will have to deal with both sets of challenges.Within the town limits, it's a mixed bag as to which services come from the town and which come from the county, which is why it's important to have a manager who understands both rural and urban issues. With planning and zoning authority, for example, the towns do take the lead within their own jurisdictions, but there are areas like the ETJs where both entities participate in planning. There are also a lot of areas, services primarily, that the county handles even inside the town limits, many of them statutorily. Take a look at the county's services page on their website. Everything from aging services to animal control to elections to health services to land and marriage records are in the county's perview even within the town limits. Not to mention decisions about funding the county's two school systems. There are many, many services handled by the county which are not duplicated by the town. There are also a lot of areas of overlap where it's important that good coordination and cooperation occur: libraries, parks, emergency services, etc.

Exactly, Jason. I would argue that transportation and land-use planning are possibly the most important areas of overlap between our governments, and there has clearly been a county policy of noncollaboration with municipalities in the past.I think folks are getting hung up on the word "urban" because of what it means in other contexts. But in terms of local governments, it's just being used to mean "not rural." Not that the rural part of the county doesn't deserve attention and especially protection, but it can't be the main focus of a government if it wants to serve the entire county well.

ORANGE COUNTY, NC (November 8, 2013) - Do you have an interest in the future of Orange County and how the County operates? The Orange County Board of Commissioners has retained Springsted Incorporated to assist them in recruiting candidates for the position of County Manager. An important part of the selection process involves obtaining public input concerning what qualities, qualifications and experience you believe are important characteristics for the County's next County Manager to possess. If you would like to know more about what the County Manager's responsibilities are, why their selection is important to the County and provide your opinions concerning the qualities, qualifications and experience that the Board of Commissioners should consider when selecting the County's new Manager you are invited to attend one of two (2) meetings with Springsted representatives on:

  • Wednesday, November 20th in the Southern Human Services Center, 2501 Homestead Road, Chapel Hill, from 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
  • Tuesday, November 26th in the Orange County Main Library, 137 West Margaret Lane, Hillsborough, Main Meeting Room, from 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

For more information please contact Mr. John Anzivino, Senior Vice President of Springsted at 804.726.9750


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