ORANGE COUNTY – Chair of the Orange County Board of Commissioners, Barry Jacobs, and fellow commissioner, Penny Rich, said the news of County Manager Frank Clifton’s resignation did not come as a surprise. Both were candid when they said that there had been disagreements between Clifton and the Board.
“If we are fighting with our manager to get things done, that’s not a good environment to work in,” Rich said.
Clifton , in an email to the Board Thursday morning, said he would step down on September 29 of this year. He indicated he would continue to attend regularly scheduled meetings and work sessions.
“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, ” Clifton said in his letter of resignation.
Rich said her main disagreement with Clifton was over the recycling program. The county was forced to look for a new funding model after a recent North Carolina Supreme Court ruling prohibited some of the fees that fund curbside pick-up service. She said Clifton wanted to introduce franchise agreements, but the board voted in April to take that option off the table.
“When it came time to face up to citizens, it was very uncomfortable. I felt we were being led down the wrong path in that area. I think there were a number of decisions like that which didn’t carry out Orange County values as well as our citizens expected,” Rich said.
The Board also faced tough budget decisions this year, with pressure to help the Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools make up funds for its steep budget shortfalls. In the end, Commissioners approved a $187 million dollar spending plan this month which increased school funding by $102 dollars per pupil and raised the Chapel Hill-Carrboro special district tax by two cents to help open the new Northside Elementary. For the fifth year in a row, the budget did not include a countywide property tax rate increase.
“I actually thought this was one of the smoother budget processes I’ve been a part of in my 15 years as a Commissioner,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs said though there were disagreements along the way, Clifton made a positive impact during his time as County Manager.
“He helped to lead us through a difficult fiscal time. He was brought in right as the economy was crashing. When knew we were going to have to batten down the hatches. He and his staff did a very good job of helping us get our financial house in order,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs said the differences of opinion gave the Board an opportunity to take a fresh look at their own views.
“We didn’t always agree with what the conclusion should be but it is always good to have your assumptions challenged,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs said the Board hadn’t planned to meet until September, but that will likely change. The next step is to come up with a process that the commissioners agree on to find Clifton’s replacement. The Board will then reach out to search firms to facilitate that process.
“When you start searching for a new manager, you weigh out what the citizen’s values are and what is most important right now. We need to be very careful in understanding what those values are and how that relates to who runs our county,” Rich said.
Rich said it was known this that position would be Clifton’s last before retirement. He was not available for comment Thursday.
Clifton’s Resignation Letter Sent to BoCC:
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