Jason Baker: We need a county manager who ...

July 13, 2013 

Jason Baker


Editor’s note: The following originally appeared on, an online forum for progressive perspectives in Orange County, in response to a post about Orange County Manager Frank Clifton resigning. We print it here with the writer’s permission.

We need a county manager who is:

• Someone who understands, appreciates and is excited to be working in a county that is predominantly urban. Almost two-thirds of Orange County’s population lives inside of one of its municipalities. I want a manager who understands city government as well as he/she does county government, and who actively works to prevent conflicts before they occur.

• Someone who understands, appreciates and is excited to be working in a part of the Triangle region, not an isolated county in the middle of nowhere. Our next manager should be a strong collaborator, who sees regional planning and regional governance as a top priority. We are a part of a rapidly growing area of 2 million people that in many ways is functionally a single unit, regardless of where borders are drawn.

• Someone who will make communications a top priority, and who understands what this means in a modern context. Issuing press releases is not communicating. Holding poorly advertised meetings in the middle of the day in inconvenient locations is not communicating. Creating social media accounts years and years after your counterparts, only using them for outbound messages, and not understanding the basics of how they work is not communicating. Embedding animated cartoon gifs is not communicating. The county has made some good steps in recent years, but we are not making communications the fiscal and organizational priority that it should be.

• Someone who is willing to ruffle feathers and shake things up. Many agencies are decades behind where they should be. It’s not just a matter of training or money, it’s a matter of thinking like it’s the 21st century. Our needs are fundamentally different than they were a few decades ago, and our understanding of how to meet those needs has changed fundamentally as well. The county has some absolutely phenomenal employees, and those people should be rewarded and given the opportunity to thrive in their jobs. They also have some lousy employees who need to be dealt with appropriately.

• Someone who will make it a fireable offense to distribute a scanned copy as a pdf when the original version is available. OK, I’m kidding, that’s probably a little harsh, but it gets to my point about communications and acting like we’re in the century that we’re in.

• Someone who is thoroughly committed to implementing progressive public policy directives from our county commissioners. The new manager should be someone who is excited to try new things, and who is willing to take flak from the public and his/her own employees when changes are made.

Bonus points for a candidate who is young, female, or a person of color. Speaking as a white male who will some day soon no longer consider himself young – there are plenty of us in local government already. It’s not a deal breaker if the new manager looks (physically) a lot like the old one, but we should actively solicit diverse candidates.

Jason Baker is a member of Chapel Hill’s Planning Board and serves on the executive board of the Orange-Chatham Sierra Club. He ran for Chapel Hill Town Council in 2011.

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