David Parrish talks about role as Greensboro’s city manager

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- David Parrish recently turned 40 years old.

He also recently became Greensboro’s city manager in charge of a $143 million budget and 3,000 employees.

“I really do want us to be a community of choice,” Parrish told me recently during an interview at city hall. “And what I mean by that is I had the choice six years ago to come back.”

That “come back” refers to his growing up in Greensboro. His father’s a local Baptist minister.

“I lived out on Yanceyville [Street]. I’ve lived on Summit Avenue. So I went to Rankin Elementary and Northeast High School,” he said.

After receiving bachelor's and master's degrees at UNC-Chapel Hill, Parrish worked in city government in both Yanceyville and Danville, Virginia. He would later become assistant and then interim city manager in Greensboro before getting the top spot in June of this year.

But it was -- in part -- the city’s response to the April 15 tornado (while Parrish was interim city manager) that convinced city council members there was no need for a national city manager search.

The city received mostly praise for its handling of the storm recovery.

“I think it was due to we were willing to let others do their role and do it as best as they could and not worry about who was taking credit for what,” Parrish said. “I think it was really just us being collaborative and not worrying about regulating who was doing what.”

But then, a little more than a month later, another big challenge: five children died in a fire caused by unattended cooking in an apartment on Summit Avenue. An inspection of the entire complex afterward led to city inspectors condemning 41 other units and forcing dozens of people to find new places to live.

“We are complaint-driven. And so we need to get complaints to get in,” Parrish said. “And that’s what had happened in the past and that’s what happens currently today across the city. And so certainly when we got those we responded.”

Another challenge: violent crime. That includes a shooting in July that injured a person across Washington Street from City Hall and just yards from Parrish’s office.

“There’s always more I think we can do about every aspect. But on crime, it’s more than just a police effort. And I think the community recognizes that too,” Parrish said. “But our crime for this year is down in all major categories including homicides.”

“We’re going to continue to be present, walk communities and respond appropriately where we can,” he said.

Parrish also stressed when it comes to economic development, it’s an entire-city effort.

“We want our roads to be in good shape. We want our water to be the best. We want our fire department to be the best because everything, nowadays, we’re competing on a global scale,” he said. “It’s not just about what incentive you’re going to provide. It’s about every aspect of our community.”