Wake County government has a new top manager: David Ellis, who has served as deputy county manager since 2015.
In his new role as county manager, Ellis will oversee a $1.26 billion annual budget that serves Wake’s 1 million residents. He is the first African-American to hold the job in the county’s 247-year history.
“It’s a great opportunity and I am ready to jump into the job and move forward,” Ellis said Monday afternoon after a news conference in which he was named manager. “But I am definitely honored and humbled by that designation.”
Ellis, 50, is stepping into the job as county and school leaders are starting to talk about the next budget cycle. The Wake school system accounts for 52 percent of the county’s budget, which pays to build schools and supplement teachers’ state salaries. Last year, county commissioners gave less than half of a requested $45.2 million school funding increase.
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Ellis said he wants to improve the relationship between county commissioners and school board members.
“I think it’s much better,” Ellis said of the relationship. “Both sides want great educations for kids. And it’s just a matter of (figuring) out a way to work together.”
The school system is searching for a new superintendent. Ellis said having a new county manager and a new superintendent will give both boards a clean slate to “start anew.”
“The first thing is, it’s a relationship,” he said. “Having someone who we can have some really good one-on-one conversations.”
Jessica Holmes, chairwoman of the commissioners, praised Ellis on Monday.
“With his over 20 years experience in local government and love for Wake County, it was very clear to us after conducting a national search and considering over 25 candidates that David Ellis was a standout,” she said. “He has been an integral part of realizing the vision of the board and continues to be what I often call the calm in the midst of the storm.”
Wake named its top three picks for county manager in late January and opened the normally confidential process to the public. An informal meet and greet was held earlier this month, giving residents a chance to learn more about the candidates and ask them questions.
The other two finalists were from outside Wake. Barry Burton serves as a county administrator in Lake County, Ill., near Chicago. Bonnie Hammersley has served as the Orange County manager for the last four years.
Ellis is replacing Jim Hartmann, who resigned in October after three years in the job. Hartmann said his decision to leave was not related to an investigation into missing money at the Wake County Register of Deeds office. Laura Riddick, who ran the office for nearly two decades, was charged in December with six felony counts of embezzlement involving a total of $926,615 over more than six years.
Some Wake commissioners had criticized Hartmann for not moving more quickly to strengthen cash-handling policies at the office.
Commissioners will set a start date and annual salary for Ellis at an upcoming meeting. As deputy manager, he earned an annual salary of $197,798.