MPA ALUMNI PROFILES
Chapel Hill, NC
Roger Stancil’s earliest resume indicated his desire to “help make local governments more responsive.” Now, 30 years later, when Stancil talks about the most important skill he brings to his role as a town manager, he cites “the ability to listen.”
His description of town manager paints a picture of a strong leader and facilitator facing out in one direction to the town council and the mayor, and in the other direction to the town’s work force. He makes decisions consistent with where the council wants to go; and ensures that the council, as the policy-making body, has the best information they can get when they’re making decisions. He also makes sure the town’s work force – accountants, building inspectors, librarians, mechanics, etc.– have what they need to do their jobs: adequate equipment, uniforms, fair and adequate compensation.
Stancil has been town manager of Chapel Hill since 2006. “It’s already a great place,” he says. “I will work to make it even better.” He came to Chapel Hill after 26 years in Fayetteville, where he started as administrative assistant to the city manager, became deputy city manager in 1992, and was appointed city manager in 1997. He managed the growth of the city from 70,000 to 180,000 people. Fayetteville was recognized with a number of honors during Stancil’s tenure, but when asked to reflect on particular accomplishments, he talks about his early years as a new city manager, a time of racial unrest.
“I walked into a volatile situation, and my first goal was to get people to listen and talk to each other,” he says. “We invited leaders of the African American and white communities to sit down together. Fayetteville is a very diverse community, and we made progress as a result of people coming together and focusing on their shared goals. Ten years later, people are still talking and working together.”
Stancil describes himself as “a child of the 60s, all about changing the world.” His original goal was to go to law school and then into politics, but as an undergraduate at Wake Forest University, he took a course in public administration that taught him that “maybe administrators can actually be more effective in getting things done.”
After college, he worked for the Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC), a nonprofit that teaches not just job skills, but “the skills of work”: the importance of being on time and getting along with people. In Rocky Mount, as assistant director of human relations, he saw firsthand the influence that city administrators can have on a community. Steve Raper, an old friend and now Rocky Mount town manager (see profile at www.mpa.unc.edu/alumni/profileraper), encouraged Stancil to enter the MPA program at UNC-Chapel Hill.
For his MPA internship, Stancil worked as manager for three towns with a total population of 5,000: Winterville, Grifton, and Fountain. The towns were so small that he also functioned as building inspector and community development director, making sure asphalt was laid and new safety equipment was tested. He says one of the most valuable lessons of that time was having to work with, and answer to, three separate mayors and three governing boards. He had the same title−but a different job−in each town; he learned to adapt.
“Later in my career, I could transfer that learning when elected bodies changed,” he says. Over the years in Fayetteville, for instance, he worked with four mayors and 40 council members.
Stancil says the lessons learned during his time in the MPA program are “the guiding principles of my career,” and he cites lifetime relationships with classmates and faculty. Flo Miller, deputy manager of Chapel Hill, and Russell Allen, city manager of Raleigh, are both former classmates. Gordon Whitaker was a new faculty member when Stancil attended the MPA program, but Roger says, “I still lean on him for advice and guidance.”
Stancil advises MPA students to “take every opportunity to meet with alumni. Listen to people talk about their own experiences when they visit the program, and see what that job feels like to you.”