The Daily Tar Heel

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Tuesday December 6th

Orange County sees changes in two major leadership positions

October might have just started, but it already promises big changes for Orange County.

Two major county government positions will see personnel changes this month.

Assistant County Manager Willie Best retired last Friday, and Colleen Bridger was appointed director of the Orange County Health Department the same day.

Best’s last day was Sept. 30, and Bridger will begin her position Oct. 31.

Orange County Manager Frank Clifton said Best retired due to health issues. He said the stressful nature of the job and nightly meetings were factors that contributed to Best’s decision.

Best served in the county manager’s office the past four years.

Clifton said Best offered valuable input during that time.

“Willie was a low-key guy who has worked behind the scenes a lot,” he said.

Steve Yuhasz, vice chairman of the Orange County Board of Commissioners, said Best was instrumental in setting long-term goals for economic development, and he helped to increase the number of ambulances and health services for Orange County.

Best handled assignments well and got them done in a timely manner, Yuhasz said.

He said the transition to another assistant county manager will not be easy.

Prior to coming to Orange County, Best served as county manager or assistant county manager in three other North Carolina counties. He also served four years as assistant city manager and acting city manager of Falls Church, Va.

A decision for a permanent replacement will be made in the next 30 days, and the county will not use a search firm, Clifton said.

In the meantime, Michael Talbert, deputy finance director, will serve as interim assistant county manager.

Bridger will replace Interim Director Dorothy Cilenti when she assumes her position as Orange County Health Department director at the end of the month.

Cilenti was named interim in June after former director Dr. Rosemary Summers retired.

Yuhasz said Bridger’s background in public health was key in selecting her from a pool of four candidates. “She’s had experience in bringing together different organizations,” he said.

Last year Bridger started her own nonprofit organization, South Carolina Institute for Child Success, based in Greenville, S.C.

Bridger holds a Ph.D. in health services research from UNC-Charlotte and has served as director of the Gaston and Stokes County health departments.

She applied for the Orange County position based on her past experience, she said.

“The primary motivation was recognizing that I wanted to get back into public health,” she said.

As health director, Bridger will oversee 95 people in the department and report to the Orange County Board of Health. She will collaborate with health, human service and environmental providers on community health issues.

She said she is excited to begin working in Orange County.

“Orange County is like the mecca for public health,” she said.

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