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Frank Duke to leave City/County Planning

Durham's press office released the news today that City/County Planning director Frank Duke would be leaving his office on September 21 to accept the same post in Norfolk, Va.'s city government. Interim leadership for the Durham department is to be named by city manager Patrick Baker and county manager Mike Ruffin later this week.

From what I've gleaned in talking to stakeholders who've interacted with the department, this represents a real loss for the city from a leadership perspective. Planning has had at times an uneven reputation relative to peer departments in the Triangle, but Frank Duke always has stood out as a capable head of the area. His most notable public accomplishment was guiding the city and county through the Unified Development Ordinance process several years back.

To others, though, Frank Duke has also been the responsible and responsive go-to person when issues got stuck somewhere in the bureaucracy -- a human WD-40 for the cogs and gears of government. One can ask the question as to whether new leadership can affect a change or improvement in department through and through, not just at the 'boxtop' level.



I concur that Mr. Duke is a capable planner, in a tough position, having the pleasure of reporting to two bosses, the City & County managers. To many however, particularly for advocates of older neighborhoods, Mr. Duke has expressed a autocratic approach to dealing with the general public. He seemed unwilling at times to take neighborhoods concerns into consideration. Frank would often use his authority of interpretation to make a judgment call about zoning "grey areas", but if someone else had a different viewpoint, there was little negotiating. The "my way" or the "highway" approach was frustrating at times. Neighborhood advocates deserve a big willing ear by Planning. We all have full time jobs doing other things, unlike developers, thus our voices are often more difficult to hear. I sincerely hope that our next Planning Director is able to understand, as our City Council often understands, Durham has a very engaged citizenry. We don't let the City or County just run itself. We often let government know when we disagree with a policy or procedure. We are not afraid to put a spotlight on the issue through the media, blogs, or direct contact with our elected officials.

Zoning is such an important issue to all of us, even if we don't realize it. Good zoning provides the necessary positive reinforcement neighborhoods need to insure that their interests are stable. Bad zoning on the other hand can tear neighborhoods apart by allowing inappropriate development in, and create a domino effect. With this negative impact comes all of society's ills. At that point, zoning has helped create a problem for everyone else.

Best wishes Mr. Duke. Let's hope that Mr. Baker & Mr. Ruffin have a good idea of what Durham City/County needs. If not, be sure to tell them!

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