Davis sworn in as Durham’s new county manager

Apr. 14, 2014 @ 09:08 PM

New County Manager Wendell Davis pledged Monday to spend his time working to boost Durham’s “human capital” in cooperation with the city government, educators and the private sector.

“We can talk about crime, we can talk about poverty, we can talk about health disparities and all these other factors that impact and influence our communities on a daily basis,” Davis said. “But if we can figure out how to create access and opportunity, for young people, for all people, to get a solid education, then we create opportunity for people to change their lives.”

Davis spoke after taking the oath of office during a rare afternoon business meeting of the County Commissioners. The board normally holds its business meetings at night, but moved up the schedule for Monday’s to accommodate the start at dusk of Passover.

The ceremony came about two months after commissioners voted 4-1 to hire Davis, a former deputy county manager who more recently was N.C. Central University’s vice chancellor for administration and finance.

Davis first started working for the county in 1999, working under former County Manager David Thompson initially and then for now-retired County Manager Mike Ruffin.

He noted that the county embarked under his predecessors on a major effort to upgrade its physical plant, building a new courthouse, a new human services center and a series of branch libraries that are all “world class.”

“But those are all buildings. And they’re very nice buildings and I think we all feel good about those,” he said. “But we’ve got more work to do. I think the next phase will entail fixing the matter of our human capital.”

Having grown up in rural Halifax County, Davis said he’d learned early in life that it’s possible for families to overcome poverty and a weak school system by applying “courage and will,” and by looking out for each other.

“We can build all the nice buildings in the world, but until we connect ourselves, until we come together and join hands and understand how our neighbors are, we’re not going to fix this problem,” he said.

Commissioners made it clear they think Davis and they are on the same page.

“I think he struck all the right notes,” Commissioner Ellen Reckhow said after Davis finished his comments. “Your focus, I think, coincides with where the board’s priorities are right now.”

“Locking hands with the community from one end to the other is the only way we’re going to move the needle,” Commissioner Brenda Howerton added.

Both Reckhow and Davis noted that the human-capital emphasis jibes with calls earlier in the year by Mayor Bill Bell and Commissioners Chairman Michael Page for a new, neighborhood-level attack on povety.

Meanwhile, a third commissioner, Fred Foster, said he doubted Davis would have been hired had not the board changed chairmen in December.

Foster that month was voted out as chairman in favor of Page.

But Davis “had my unwavering support when the [search for a new manager] started, he has my unwavering supporting now and he will have my unwavering support in the future,” Foster said.

He added that the timing of the hire wasn’t the best because it denied Davis a chance to work directly with Ruffin on the transition or with now-retired Budget & Management Services Director Pam Meyer on planning for the county’s fiscal 2014-15 budget.

Ruffin departed at the end of January and Meyer followed shortly thereafter.

County Attorney Lowell Siler joined the commissioners in welcoming Davis on Monday. He predicted the new manager will be able to “hit the ground running” thanks to his past service in the organization.

“This is one of the most exciting days I’ve had since I’ve been here,” Siler said. “It’s great to have my old friend back.”