For 13 years, Joe Durham has worked to make sure residents could take for granted hundreds of public services Wake County government provides, whether it’s the safe handling of food in restaurants or the timely delivery of funds that help the needy buy groceries.
After December, Durham will be just one more customer the county has to satisfy.
Durham, 59, announced Tuesday he will retire from his position as deputy county manager at the end of 2014. Though he hopes to continue working, it will likely be in the private sector.
“It’s a good time to move on,” said Durham, who began his public-service career as a planner in Richmond County, fresh out of school at East Carolina University. He worked for the cities of Sanford and Rocky Mount, and spent eight years as Edgecombe County manager before coming to Wake.
Once he got here, Durham said, “I fell in love with the place.”
In the job, Durham has been responsible for what the county calls its external departments – those that come in contact with the public – including environmental services, community services, human services, workforce development, emergency medical services, fire services, emergency management and the city-county bureau of identification.
Deputy County Manager Johnna Rogers handles internal departments.
One of Durham’s favorite elements of his job, he said, has been its variety. Though he starts most days with a full schedule, nearly every day an issue arises that wasn’t on the radar.
“No two days are alike,” he said.
Since he took the job, the county’s population has grown from 600,000 people to 1 million, and the county’s budget has gone from $578 million to more than $1 billion.
And the county’s problems have grown more complex, Durham said, often requiring negotiation with local cities and towns to make sure residents get what they need.
Durham has enjoyed working on solutions to the complex issues, he said, such as trying to help residents of a subdivision at Bond Street and Trawick Road whose drinking water wells were found last year to be contaminated with pesticides.
The county is still working with the state to determine the extent of the contamination and with the city of Raleigh, which may eventually extend water lines to the area.
Joe Bryan, who joined the Wake County Board of Commissioners not long after Durham was hired, said Durham’s experience as a county manager made him an excellent deputy. Last year, when longtime county manager David Cooke retired, the board asked Durham to serve as interim manager until a successor could be put in place.
Durham said he already had planned a retirement date when Cooke announced he would be leaving, so he didn’t apply for Cooke’s job. Jim Hartmann took over as county manager earlier this year.
“Joe is the most capable deputy I could have ever hoped to have as I came to Wake County,” Hartmann said. “The staff and I will miss both his camaraderie and leadership.”
When Durham leaves, he said, he may do management consulting work. If he has time, he might try to improve his golf game, read more, listen to more sports and talk radio and enjoy more sporting events.
While Durham said he might not miss essentially being on call 24/7, he would miss being involved in the process of government, with all the competing opinions that shape it and the sometimes grinding pace at which it moves.
“That’s the way our founding fathers designed it,” he said. “Decisions aren’t made with the flip of a switch. At the end of the day, you have a good product, but it takes a while to get there.”