Roger Stancil has guided the town through a lot of changes in the last 11 years.
The town manager told Mayor Pam Hemminger and the Town Council in an email Wednesday he will retire in September. He only planned to stay five to seven years when he arrived in Chapel Hill in 2006, Stancil said, but will celebrate a dozen years in 2018.
Retirement started to look good during a monthlong vacation last summer – “I said, this is pretty good,” Stancil said. Then he was recognized for 45 years of service at an International City Management Association conference in October.
“I was wearing my nametag around, and it had a ribbon that said ‘45 years,” he said, “and everybody said, ‘Are you crazy?’”
Hemminger said she was stunned by Stancil’s decision but understood.
The council had planned to meet Nov. 20 for Stancil’s annual review. Instead, they will talk about what needs to be done over the next year as they transition to a new manager, Hemminger said.
“While it’s Chapel Hill’s loss, we’ll work together to find the best possible, new leadership,” she said. The process will involve months of applications, interviews and meetings with town staff and the public, she said.
Stancil, 68, also served as assistant director of human relations for his hometown, Rocky Mount, and as Fayetteville’s city manager from 1997 to 2006.
Stancil counted among his accomplishments a strong, collaborative town staff; a closer relationship with the university; improved town services and clear priorities; strong town finances since the 2008 recession, and work on the town’s affordable-housing challenges.
“I am grateful for all the support I have received over the years, and I am confident Chapel Hill will continue to be a place where people thrive with connections, choices and community,” he said.
There have been hurdles, including the recession, state and federal budget cuts and accusations from some residents that Stancil was mismanaging the town’s finances and advocating for growth that only benefits developers.
His loudest critics have been members of the Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town (CHALT), which formed in 2015 to challenge the town’s direction.
The group helped to unseat Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt and former council members Lee Storrow and Jim Ward in the 2015 election and will watch as seven candidates it endorsed in the last two elections – Hemminger and six council members – serve on the board next year.
Julie McClintock, a CHALT member and former council member, called Stancil’s retirement “the end of an era.” As manager, she noted, he “exerts a key influence on the town’s direction.”
“Obviously this Town Council and previous councils have approved the manager’s performance and given him hefty raises,” she said. “Many appreciate Roger’s service to the town and his plan to give the council a long transition to find a replacement.”
But that service also meant frustration for residents who think there has been a lack of transparency about town issues and development, McClintock and CHALT member Diane Willis said. Residents also have been ignored, they said, although there have been more opportunities for them to participate during Stancil’s tenure.
His retirement presents the council with an opportunity to find a town manager who reflects the council’s values and can inspire citizen confidence, they said.
“I would like to see true transparency and advocacy for the public, for the taxpayer,” Willis said. “I don’t want staff to be advocating for the developer, advocating for people that don’t live here. ... Their job is to look out for the public interest, the people who pay their salary, and that’s what I’d like them to do.”
Stancil had little to say about his critics when asked about the issues Wednesday afternoon.
“They have an opinion that I respect,” he said.
‘Should be proud’
Hemminger credited Stancil with several accomplishments, including his hard work to secure the recently approved Wegmans Food Market deal, create the research and business enterprise zone on Millhouse Road, and negotiate for the American Legion property when the new council chose to buy it in 2016.
Everyone also “should be proud” of the strong, collaborative relationships that he has developed between the town and UNC, she said.
“I’m very, very grateful that he’s been willing to spend so much time with me, getting me up to speed on things,” she said. “I think the town has had this unprecedented growth, and I think that’s hard on everybody, but he’s been in there trying to do the best he could.”
Stancil and his wife Carol haven’t decided their next step, he said, but he would like to help the new council get up to speed, and use his experience to do some consulting or teach. He’s also looking forward to visiting with his children in western North Carolina and being an average citizen.
“I’ve been through 45 years not having a political opinion that I expressed out loud, so I’m thinking with the shape the world’s in, it’s a good time for me to express an opinion and maybe do something about the world we’re in,” he said.
Dear Mayor Hemminger and Town Council,
In October, I received my 45 year service award from the International City Management Association. I came to Chapel Hill in 2006 and committed to 5 to 7 years as manager. In September of this year, I will have been here twelve years and I believe I have accomplished the goals I was asked to achieve. The Town is in good shape for the future and I am ready to begin another chapter in my life. There is never a good time for a manager to plan to retire but there seem to be some reasons why this would be a good time:
▪ When I was hired, a major goal of the Council was leadership development for the Town staff. I believe our staff leadership is strong, with a growing spirit of innovation and collaboration. It is likely time for me to get out of the way so they can fly even higher.
▪ Another major goal was reframing the Town’s relationship with the University from adversarial to collaborative. I believe today we have an excellent working relationship with the University.
▪ The Town’s core services are excellent and appreciated by our community as evidenced in our biennial community survey. We have an ongoing commitment to improve our administrative processes and our response to our community in providing services to all.
▪ I promised to create a Town organizational chart that reflected the Towns priorities. With the establishment of the executive directors for Housing and Community, Technology, Community Safety and Community Arts and Culture, along with our focus on team problem solving, I believe we have begun down that path. Together with the strategic framework we are building with the Mayor and Council, we will increasingly connect our strategic community interests with our resource allocation.
▪ We wrote and adopted our organizational values and use them for decision-making and feedback. We wrote a new personnel ordinance, created an ombuds office and changed the way we resolve workplace differences in our Values based organization.
▪ Through a difficult recession, we maintained our core services, remained committed to our employees and maintained our AAA bond rating and long record of annual audits with an unqualified opinion. The town is financially strong.
▪ We are actively addressing our affordable housing challenge with our community partners and an excellent Town staff to define the need, set targets, identify investments needed and measure our success.
I have enjoyed my time working with the Town of Chapel Hill. I want to give ample notice of my retirement to facilitate a smooth transition. I will be working with the Mayor and Town Council to accomplish that goal over the coming year.
I am grateful for all the support I have received over the years and I am confident Chapel Hill will continue to be a place where people thrive with connections, choices and community.