OC Commissioners Nearing Decision On Naming Next County Manager

The Orange County Board of Commissioners is nearing a decision on naming a new county manager.

Barry Jacobs, Chair of the County Commissioners, said the Board will not make an official announcement within the next week, but that they “are on the interstate and can see the exit up ahead.”

“Before we could announce anything, we will have to negotiate a contract, and there are a lot of things that go into it before one would make an announcement. We haven’t even decided completely on the final steps in the process,” Jacobs said.

The Board will hold two closed sessions next week, one on Monday at the Franklin Hotel and another Tuesday at the Siena Hotel.

The purpose of the closed meetings are “to consider the qualifications, competence, performance, character, fitness, conditions of appointment, or conditions of initial employment of an individual public officer or employee or prospective public officer or employee,” according to North Carolina law.

The Board has been searching for a permanent county manager since last year when Frank Clifton, who had been in the position since 2009, announced in June that he would step down in September.

Michael Talbert was named interim Orange County Manager. He had previously served as the assistant County Manager since 2011.

Talbert told WCHL News in September that he didn’t plan to apply for permanent position.


Michael Talbert Named Interim Orange County Manager

ORANGE COUNTY – Michael Talbert has been named interim Orange County Manager. He has served as the assistant County Manager since 2011.

Talbert told WCHL News that he doesn’t plan to apply for permanent position.

“I’m excited about the opportunity,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for me to keep going in the initiatives the Board already has underway and move forward with their goals for the next six months. I hope to provide some stability during the search for the next county manager.”

Barry Jacobs, Chair of the County Commissioners, said Talbert’s experience made him the right person for the position.

“We had several really good candidates and we were fortunate to have two outstanding internal candidates,” Jacobs said. “We decided to ask Mr. Talbert to serve the citizens of Orange County until we hire a permanent manager.”

The announcement was made at Tuesday night’s Board meeting.

Frank Clifton, who has been County Manager since 2009, said in June that he would step down effective on September 29.

The Board of Commissioners will begin meeting with consulting firms next month to assist in the County Manager search process.

“We have the benefit of having someone we already know and trust to be able to take our time to make sure that we get the right person for the permanent position,” Jacobs said.

Jacobs said that there were three candidates for the interim position, with one  of whom was from outside of Orange County. He said the other internal candidate had strong qualifications and will be able to apply for the permanent position.

Jacobs said Talbert assumed the leadership role for the county on several assignments, including a seat on the Rogers Road Task Force and as a staff liaison in improving infrastructure upgrades in the Emergency Services Department.

“He’s a deliberate, unassuming, intelligent, knowledgeable person for whom who have assigned some of the most difficult tasks with one person applying from outside of Orange County.

Talbert joined the County’s administrative team in 2010, with experience in financial services and management,and served as the Finance Director of Catawba County and County Manager of Polk County, both in North Carolina.


OC Commissioners On Clifton’s Resignation

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