Commissioners seem close to hiring new manager

Jan. 15, 2014 @ 06:39 PM

County Commissioners have reached the end game of their search for a successor to County Manager Mike Ruffin, with a closed-door meeting scheduled Friday morning to perhaps seal the deal.

“As soon as we can work through some logistical matters, I think we’ll have a name,” Chairman Michael Page said on Wednesday.

Page declined to elaborate. But his comments were consistent with reports from other sources that commissioners have settled on a pick and moved to open contract talks.

They already have held one closed session on hiring matters this week, on Monday.

Ruffin retires on Jan. 31.

He announced the decision in late July, and commissioners quickly signaled they would forgo the traditional national search for a candidate in favor of looking in-state for his replacement.

By all accounts, they’ve focused on Ruffin’s key lieutenants, his current or former deputy county managers. As of Wednesday, it appeared former Deputy County Manager Wendell Davis is the leading candidate.

Davis, who’s now vice chancellor for administration and finance at N.C. Central University, deflected a question Wednesday about the search.

“At this juncture, I am assuming that whatever process they’re going through is confidential, so I’m certainly not at liberty to say anything,” he said. “I guess we’ll stay tuned and see what comes of it.”

Davis was deputy manager from 1999 to 2011.

He also served as interim county manager in the fall and early winter of 2004, when Ruffin was fired amid a squabble with some commissioners, then re-hired after that year’s election.

Davis’ business-affairs position at N.C. Central is traditionally the second- or third-most powerful on a UNC system campus, on par with a school’s academic-affairs chief.

He joined the NCCU administration in mid-2011 at the behest of then-Chancellor Charlie Nelms.

But Nelms retired abruptly in the summer of 2012, shortly before the start of the 2012-13 academic year. The UNC system hired Chancellor Debra Saunders-White to replace him. She took over on June 1.

As deputy county manager, Davis handled such sensitive matters as the replacement of the operator of the Durham Convention Center and the taking via eminent domain of the former Scarborough & Hargett funeral home.

At NCCU, he oversaw what was in fiscal 2011-12 a $185.7 million business.

The school that year cut spending on internal services, supplies and materials, in the words of campus officials “limit[ing] its expenditures to those that were absolutely essential” given continued economic uncertainty.

It ran on $201.3 million the year before, according to its fiscal 2011-12 audit, the most recent that’s available.

The county in fiscal 2012-13 spent $460.7 million, auditors say.