Program Report: County Manager Mike Ruffin

MikeRuffinWebLong time County Commissioner Ellen Reckhow introduced County Manager, Mike Ruffin who is now in his 13th year on the job. The program was advertised to be about the newly opened Durham County Courthouse Building but Mike instead conducted a little seminar in county budget economics, apparently in preparation for a property tax increase that he will be requesting for the Fiscal Year 2014 budget. As he put it, he’s going to have a lot of explaining to do.

After the meeting Mike was kind enough to give me his notes so I wouldn’t have to trust my not-so-good ears with the numbers that he shared. But the most impressive number that he shared then had nothing to do with his presentation. If, like me, you hadn’t seen Mike for a while until recently, you might have gotten that feeling that he looked familiar but you weren’t sure why. Like his approach to governing, this is a man who took the bull by the horns and lost well over 100 lbs to get to fighting weight for this budget session.

The General Fund Budget is expected to be over $348.4 M with a projected $203.4 M coming from the property tax, almost $58 M coming from the sales tax and $15.3 M coming from various service charges. Among the points Mike made is that tax revenues are growing much more slowly then they did just a few years ago while the demand for services had continued to grow at a steady pace because of the sluggish economy.  In fact, he made it clear that he has yet to see much evidence of an economic boom that he sees Brian Williams report on the evening news every night. Nevertheless, he noted, the County is in the best financial position in its history.

A good part of the presentation was about what he sees as the budget stressors: school funding, human services funding, and debt managemen
t. The debt management is largely the result of over a billion dollars of capital improvements completed over the last ten year period, including the new courthouse complex at $119M and the soon to be completed Human Services Building, which will come in at over $90M.

Perhaps the most interesting observation that he shared had to do with school funding. In a ten county comparison of “peer” counties in North Carolina, Durham is substantially higher at $3165 per student than any other county. He noted that if we could reduce that cost to the weighted average of those other counties we would need almost $40M less in tax revenues. Obviously that argues for careful planning and tight controls in the school system. But there is another factor too.

Mike may have been being kind when he noted that our education and social services costs were high because as a community we valued those things. Another hypothesis comes from the advertising advice for septic tank owners “pay me now or pay me later.” We’re now living in “later.” As we as a club get more involved in literacy programs it is clear that not only do we have a lot of poor people in Durham but some of the shortcuts of the past are now coming back to haunt us. Recall the story of Chris Williams from the Durham Literacy Center being “socially” promoted grade to grade without learning to read. We know that over 40% of our students struggle with literacy and there is only so much the schools can do without money, and strong community support. It is unlikely that anyone who has been tutoring over at YE Smith believes that the efforts there to create an elementary school model for Durham isn’t money well spent.

There was a question too about the need for the new courthouse complex. That too, may be part of the price for these same shortcuts. Let’s hope that this handsome building will facilitate more positive change.  We’ll also continue to need great leadership from Commissioners such as Ellen and managers such as Mike. Let’s hope the rumors of Mike’s retirement are just that…rumors.

Upcoming Rotary Program Schedule

Additional information may be found on the website calendar if submitted by the program committee.

MAY 13, 2013 MIKE RUFFIN, Durham County Manager

New Durham County Courthouse

Introduction: Ellen Reckhow


Cows To Condos: The History of Croasdaile Farm

Introduction: Rob Everett

MAY 27, 2013 NO MEETING!!!

In Observance of The Memorial Day Holiday

JUNE 03, 2013            DR. BILL INGRAM, PRESIDENT

Durham Technical Institute

NOTE! OffSite Meeting @ Durham Technical Institute

1637 East Lawson Street

                        Durham, North Carolina 27703



Introduction: TBD

Sharon Lassiter

Executive Secretary

Durham Rotary Club

Rotary Minute: Ernie Mills and Ernie Mills, Jr.

ErnieMillsErnieJrWe departed from our usual Rotary Minute format to let Ernie Mills Jr. introduce his dad, the Reverend Ernie Mills, who then provided the program in their brand new facility at the corner of Alston and Main in East Durham.

Both “Preacher” Ernie and his wife Gail were were exposed to addiction early. The Reverend Mills was born in very humble circumstances in rural Pitt County. His father was described a hard working family man who nonetheless was a victim of his addiction and died at the age or 40. Gail’s step-father fell in a different place along the spectrum of addiction and was both alcoholic and abusive. They found each other and their mission in “hatred for the addiction but love of the addict” in the church where they met.

They started their mission in Winston-Salem but Ernie decided to move to Durham…not because he was invited but because he saw the need. The facilities of the rescue mission including three thrift stores speak to their success. So does the Honorary Paul Harris Fellowship conferred on Ernie Sr. as well as two honorary doctorates and the recognition of Governor McClory. But the real testament to their success were the numerous graduates of the Rescue Mission’s Victory program for the addicted and the homeless  that helped the Mills family host the club at this successful offsite meeting.

A history of the Durham Rescue Mission was distributed at the meeting. Titled A Step of Faith it also chronicles the origins of this incredible family and its meaning to Durham.

Submitted by Jay Zenner

Program Report: The Reverend Ernie Mills and the Durham Rescue Mission

ErnieMillsWebThe story of the Durham Rescue Mission is one of incredible vision, dedicated work, and whose bedrock is the redeeming power of Christian faith.  Founded in 1974 by Dr. Ernie Mills and his wife Gail, the Mission has grown from a shelter for 12 homeless out-of-work men trapped by their addictions to an operation that houses 372 men, women and children.  The men’s facility is located at the main campus which, in addition to administrative services, houses an impressive array of support facilities: GED room for high school diploma tutoring, computer room with reference materials for job hunting, counseling center, TV room for socializing.  If our lunch was any indication, the residents eat healthy and hearty meals.  The dormitories were impeccable—beds made up to the most exacting standards, no clothes or other personal items strewn on the floor.  Each resident has assigned duties that rotate regularly.   The handsome church at the front of the main campus stands as a welcome beacon of hope for the needy.  Club member Ernie Mills, Jr’s introductory remarks gave us insight into the background of the Mills’ conviction that their ministry should be among the homeless and the addicted.

Opened in 1993, a program for women with small children is located at the Good Samaritan Inn off I-85.  For the most part, these women have battled addictions; many have suffered abuse, or find themselves with no marketable income producing skills.  An attractive playground provides wholesome activity for the children, and childcare provides the women with the freedom to engage in vocational education, and receive spiritual guidance to help overcome their addictions.

The Rescue Mission has grown into the largest program of its kind in the Triangle and houses more than 50% of Durham’s homeless population.   “We always keep one bed open for that one person desperately seeking help,” they said.

Perhaps the most dynamic activity of the Rescue Mission is its Victory Program.  This is a twelve month three-stage program, grounded in Bible study, that not only continues to provide safe shelter and to assist men and women to break free of their addictions, but also to gain the knowledge and skills to enter or re-enter the workforce.  It appeared that a resident currently in the program or is a recent graduate was seated at most of our luncheon tables.  My table was fortunate to have Charles, an affable, bright and very forthcoming product of the Victory Program.  Trained in culinary arts, Charles had worked in several restaurants before his addictions gained the upper hand.  He is currently looking for a job and exudes confidence that he will soon be employed and contribute to society.  Another inspiring story involved Rebekah and Mike who had a nice home , an electrical business, a stable income until their lives unraveled because of drugs.  First, Rebekah came to the Mission seeking help.  Inspired by her success, Mike joined her at the Mission, turned himself around and they are now back together as a couple.

The Mission is proud of the fact that it has not relied on taxpayer dollars to finance its operations.  Funding initially came from individual and corporate contributions, but the recent economic downturn severely stressed its finances.  A result was the opening of Thrift Stores to generate income and, equally important, to create jobs for the unemployed and to provide opportunities for community volunteers to become involved in the Rescue Mission’s ministry.  The 70 Mission employees in the three stores not only earn some income but they build a resumé to present to prospective employers.  The Thrift Store on Chapel Hill Boulevard is the largest such store in the Triangle.  “If your clothing is no longer becoming to you, let it come to us.”  In fact, the Mission reckons that it has saved taxpayers something on the order of nearly $12 million—every homeless person on the street costs the community $10,000.GailMillsWeb

There are numerous ways Triangle citizens can support the Durham Rescue Mission.  Contributions, of course, help, but the Mission relies on volunteers to serve meals and tutor residents, work in Thrift Stores, donate clothes and other items to the Thrift Stores, participate in one of the community events (festive dinners at Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and Back to School), serve as a liaison between the Mission and your church, donate (or better yet, buy) a car.  For a more detailed look at the programs and activities of the Durham Rescue Mission and opportunities to volunteer, visit its web-page (

The success of the Durham Rescue Mission has not gone unnoticed.  Our club bestowed a Paul Harris fellow on Ernie and, recently, Governor Pat McCrory appointed Mills to the Interagency Coordinating Council for Homeless.


Submitted by Allen Cronenberg

Program Report: Duke Cancer Center – Dr. Victor Dzau and Dr. Michael Kastan

KastonwebWe need look no farther than our own Reginald Hodges to see how well Duke fights cancer.

After a compelling presentation by Michael Kastan, executive director of the Duke Cancer Institute, Reginald shared that Duke saved his life back in 1999. Of course, he received his treatments in the basement of Duke Hospitals, not in the magnificent $200 million new Duke Cancer Center.

Reginald noted that the advancements made at Duke specifically and in cancer research more broadly marked “a world of difference” from what he experienced, but the outcome still was what patients, doctors and families have always hoped for, then as now, when confronted with the scourge of cancer.

And scourge is about the only word for this insidious disease, which will affect 50 percent of men and one-third of women in our country, as we learned in Dr. Kastan’s presentation. Worse, it’s notoriously hard to treat, as every cancer cell has to be eradicated – 99.99 percent won’t do – without harming too many healthy cells.

Considering that, it’s amazing what Duke has been able to do so far, and what’s on the horizon as advancements continue to be made.

Kastan emphasized the ways that Duke tries to treat the whole patient. As researchers continue to work on new treatments, the new center also tries to offer some tranquility for patients via a rooftop garden, meditation room and other amenities.

The new cancer center is the latest crown jewel of Duke Hospitals, a world-class medical facility that is committed to serving the Durham community.

Victor Dzau, head of Duke Hospitals, made that clear in his opening remarks, specifically thanking our club for the support its shown Duke Hospitals over the years.

Duke boosts our city in a variety of ways, such as backing the Durham Public Schools’ City of Medicine Academy magnet school, Dr. Dzau noted.

It’s also set on treating patients no matter their financial situation, a policy that really will be put to the test when the Affordable Care Act goes into full effect.

“But we are up to the task,” Dr. Dzau said.

It’s hard to overstate the value of having such a remarkable medical facility in our city. Just ask our man Reginald, and the thousands of lives he has improved at the Durham Literacy Center.

Submitted by Matt DeesDzau

Rotary Minute: Bob Yowell

BobYowellIf you want to really appreciate how big a number a thousand is, stuff and lick a thousand envelopes. Dr. Robert K. Yowell, gave us a lot of numbers in his Rotary Minute, but there was one that I kept thinking about. He’s delivered over 5,000 babies. For someone who has never witnessed the birth of even a kitten, that was impressive.

But even a number that large doesn’t totally capture the breadth of the accomplishment. I may not have ever witnessed a birth but I’ve been exposed enough to what precedes them and what follows to have an appreciation for the task. Take any 5,000 births and you’ll get a percentage that require an heroic effort on everyone’s part; some end up tragically, some are early, some are late, some have experienced parents, some parents are children themselves. My bet is that Bob had the mechanics of delivery down before the first hundred births, but I can’t imagine how much that broader experience of dealing with all those raging hormones over the years benefited each successive generation of mothers that came to him.

Bob shared some other numbers too that prove that point. But not all his accomplishments are purely medical. He met a beautiful nurse named Barbara in medical school at Duke that he is still married to. He served in the Navy on a ship that was part of the blockade of Cuba (how old is this guy?)  He ran in both the Marine Corps and Boston Marathons, played 18 holes of golf with Perry Como (old). Bob fathered 4 children, one who tragically died at three and a half years old. The other three are successful in their own rights.

Although he did his under-graduate work at UNC Bob’s blood is now true Duke Blue and his name is on walls all over the Duke Campus and Medical Center. Among them, the Yowell family holds seven Duke Degrees.

One number that he didn’t mention was what he has contributed to the Rotary Foundation. I don’t know what it is but I know that it’s beyond the level that you merely get a pin.

So, with all these accomplishments, what does Bob bring for “Show and Tell?”  A Captain Marvel comic book published during World War II. Our Captain Marvel fan created an award winning slogan for a Captain Marvel bond sales campaign, beating out 25,000 other contestants, all of whom, we presume, are also still trailing him in number of deliveries. Marvel