Who can we blame now?

Chalk up what I’m about to say to jealousy, pure and simple.

I’ve irritated a lot of people in my lifetime, but no one has ever agreed to pay me to stop. So when I learned that Orange County manager Frank Clifton walked away from his previous job as manager of Onslow County with $121,000 in severance pay because he couldn’t get along with the county board of commissioners, and now, due to disagreements with our county commissioners, will retire from Orange County with full benefits for life, I want to know how to land that sort of gig.

Admittedly, town and county managers have a tough assignment. They serve “at the pleasure of” elected officials who are easily swayed by blocs of outspoken voters. They can’t appear to squander taxpayer money, yet must defend themselves against taxpayers who squawk loudly when the government refuses to pay for a desired service or project in order to keep from raising taxes. And when elected officials make questionable spending demands – such as Orange County commissioners voting themselves a fancier meeting room costing taxpayers $1.5 million – managers lay their jobs on the line if they object.

Frank Clifton had a reputation among Chapel Hill officials as not being a team player, despite the town eventually getting its way on many issues. But Chapel Hill is part of the team. How much of that lack of cooperation can be blamed on the county manager?

Clifton told Chapel Hill the county couldn’t contribute more to the town’s crown jewel library, but Chapel Hill proceeded with the renovation, and the county eventually anteed up. Clifton ran the numbers on solid waste and saw that trucking it to Durham saved money. But when he closed the landfill a year early, Chapel Hill retaliated by terminating its landfill contract a couple months earlier still. Clifton’s demand that Orange County residents who live in Chapel Hill obey the county’s public smoking ban prompted our mayor to declare that the town takes orders only from the state and he would not order town police to enforce the county ban.

Much as I’m a fan of citizen input on government decisions, hiring the new county manager is the commissioners’ job only. They need to pick someone who will work cooperatively with them, and if that leaves the county in a mess, voters will know whom to blame. Citizen input only leaves the commissioners an out to say, “It’s not our fault; voters wanted this person.”

Town and county governments are going to have to own up to their respective roles in the conflicts. Our libraries, solid waste, fire fighters and other emergency responders, schools, economic development and tax rates are at stake. We’ll have to find a way to cooperate in the best interests of all Orange County citizens, within and outside Chapel Hill. Because come October, we won’t have Frank Clifton to take the blame.

As for my cantankerous husband irritating people by his comments on Chapel Hill Watch, this New Yorker cartoon from a couple years back says it all:

Don will continue to scare off woodpeckers and deer, until Chapel Hill outlaws pop guns. And I hope he will continue to reorient discussions back to the issues when they get sidetracked.
– Nancy Oates

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  1. George C

     /  July 1, 2013

    Hopefully that “pop gun” of Don’s is one that you use at birthday parties or else he better not aggravate any readers who decide to report him. 🙂

    From the Town Ordinances:
    “Sec. 11-6. Discharge of firearms, pellet guns

    It shall be unlawful for any person, other than a law enforcement officer acting in discharge of his duties or a citizen lawfully exercising defensive force, to discharge any gun, rifle, air rifle, BB gun, pistol, pellet gun or firearms of any description, including any other mechanism or device designed or used to project a missile by compressed air or mechanical action, within the town limits.”

  2. Bonnie Hauser

     /  July 1, 2013

    Great post Nancy. Who will we blame?

    Thanks for the stroll through memory lane, you left out when your mayor when he appeared in front of the county commissioners and told them that the town was paying for the building permits in the ETJ. Mr Clifton politely reminded the mayor that the applicant, not the town, paid for the permit.

    I am most concerned about the propenity of politicians to pander to idealism-du-jour rather than run a government. Once Clifton leaves, who’s going to ask those unpopular and uncomfortable questions about the numbers and alternatives.

    Good luck finding a cushy govt job with a pension – you’re going to need the $$$

  3. Terri Buckner

     /  July 1, 2013

    “Clifton ran the numbers on solid waste and saw that trucking it to Durham saved money.”

    Closing the landfill before it was full was a decision of the county commissioners, not an effort on the manager’s part to save money.

    The only blame I have heard leveled at Mr. Clifton on waste management has been around his actions on recycling, not on the landfill closure. And the criticisms around recycling have been around his communication to the municipal managers about a decision the county commissioners had not yet made (and indeed, did NOT make). If he had chosen to work proactively AND collaboratively with the municipalities to find a way to fund a very successful program in the face of a *pending* court decision, a lot of public angst and personal criticism levelled at him would have been avoided along with the implementation of a program that met everyone’s needs. He shot himself in the foot on this issue.

  4. Bonnie Hauser

     /  July 1, 2013

    Terri – Nancy’s point was about Chapel HIll’s decision to leave the landfill early. They used the notice clause of the interlocal agreement to “opt out” early. They started hauling to Durham in April. (The landfill closed last Saturday).

    Recycling is a different issue – it wil be interesting to see what happens when Chapel Hill runs those numbers. From what I can tell, if they exit the county program, the town can save several hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, and improve service.

  5. Many

     /  July 1, 2013

    “…………or a citizen lawfully exercising defensive force.”

    Is Don under siege from nature? In my concealed carry class we learned North Carolina is a Castle Doctrine state: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castle_doctrine

    Sorry for the troll……..

  6. Fred Black

     /  July 1, 2013

    So Nancy, are factual errors about who said what at a Council meeting an example of getting sidetracked?

  7. Nancy

     /  July 1, 2013

    Many — Are we ever under siege! The woodpeckers are eating our house; the deer are eating our deer-resistant plants we put in to stave off stormwater runoff; with the torrential rains from global warming washing over the ineffectual little nubs the deer have left us, well, who do we shoot at for that?

    Fred — Yes, I should have gone back and double-checked my notes against the video, but as you know, I often rely on my aging memory when I write the blog and trust that readers will correct me when I get something wrong. So thank you for correcting the attribution.

  8. Many

     /  July 1, 2013

    Well then according to North Carolina law you can open fire. I hope Don’s aim is more effective than his diatribe. (or maybe not)

    The “blame” game never got too far with me. I always feel like there is enough to go around. Rather than blame, I am reminded of the story I heard when I was but a youngster, visiting a kingdom called West Chester…….

    IBM had many product successes, but one of its biggest failures was the PC Jr. which has often been called the “Edsel of computers” due to some of the design characteristics that were not well accepted by the market. When the PC Jr. was dropped due to slow sales, the project manager dropped in on the senior manager and asked, “if s/he should clean out their desk?” because s/he was expecting to be fired. The manager replied, “We just spent several million dollars training you. Why would we want to fire you?”

    The point to the story is that one of the most important ways people learn is from making mistakes. We always like to believe that if you provide people with the right information, it will replace any mistaken information, but that is not that case. In this case, the project manager let incorrect prior assumptions override correct information.

    For the most tenaciously held beliefs, it is often necessary to stage an intervention by creating an uncomfortable sense of cognitive dissonance 🙂

    P.S. I always describe myself as “often mistaken, never in doubt.” 🙂

  9. DOM

     /  July 1, 2013

    Many –

    Are emoticons REALLY necessary?

  10. Many

     /  July 2, 2013

    DOM – they are there to elicit a response from guys like you.

  11. Many – Don’t use emoticons and, on top of not knowing who you are, we’ll also have a harder time understanding your tone. There is just one more step toward less communication.

  12. Many

     /  July 2, 2013

    Mark 🙁

  13. Diogenes

     /  July 2, 2013

    This issue of emoticons is no laughing matter! Thank you Mr. Marcopolos for cautioning us. Florida International University in Miami got a scare when the school’s education database was seemingly hacked. WTVJ-Ch. 6 reported that someone had typed a smiley face emoticon on the computer system’s internal website. This made the entire University uncomfortable, as it made its computer systems unsecure. The database contains personal information of over 19,000 students including current and former students’ names, addresses, social security numbers and birth dates.

  14. Many

     /  July 2, 2013

    dude… δ_δ

  15. Well, holy shit-cakes, I will get myself an alias and begin using vague emoticons. I hope that enhances the authenticity of our community communications. Although I do actually know who you are and will protect your anonymity out of respect.

  16. Bonnie Hauser

     /  July 3, 2013

    Terri – I was incorrect on the landfill stuff- Chapel Hill started going to Durham earlier this month- not in April. Sorry about that.

    Still curious to see what they decide to do about recycling. Since the urban system is completely different – its unclear why the town wouldn’t take it over – especially if its saves $$.

    Its standard practice for towns – not counties — to run collecton services. That’s why the state allows towns not counties to assess a mandatory collection fee.

  17. Many

     /  July 3, 2013


    Actually I was commenting on the situation by using a vague emoticon.

    The whole emoticon nonsense struck me as an ironic comment on being clear and the apparent notion that somehow someone is more clear or more communicative if they are not anonymous. To that notion I say next time wear a tie, its easier to pull your head out.

    So…. in that spirit, I typed an obscure emoticon not easily googled expressing disapproval.


    Sorry for being such a geek. 🙂

    How is it you think you know who I am and what is it you are respecting? If it is my choice to remain anonymous why is it you have a problem with that? Is your statement somehow a threat? A protection racket? Who do you think you are, the NSA?

    If it bothers you so much, perhaps you should just join Fred and refuse to respond or engage me. Perhaps I will just do it for you. Communicative enough for you?

  18. DOM

     /  July 4, 2013

    Many –

    Real geeks don’t use emoticons. Don’t insult them.

  19. Many

     /  July 4, 2013

    DOM I guess you would know. Sorry. 🙂

  20. Many – it doesn’t bother me. Your anonymity, and the resulting diminution of your arguments, is a choice you make. There is obviously a gaping difference between the NSA and having community discussions.