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Charlie Reece bids adieu to Durham City Council

After nearly seven years of public service, Charlie Reece will join his last Durham City Council meeting in less than a week. The city clerk will present Reece’s letter of resignation to the rest of the council at its next meeting on Monday, March 7. 

Reece, who was first elected as an at-large council member in 2015, is resigning in order to move to Paris with his family. He announced his resignation on Feb. 21. 

Reece’s wife Laura Helms Reece is the CEO of their Durham-based clinical research company Rho, which recently acquired a European business. The family will relocate for Laura’s job with their two children, Gwyn, 10, and Rose, 13, at the end of this school year. 

The Reeces plan to return to North Carolina eventually. “Even while we’re living far away for a little bit, Durham will always be our home,” Reece said in a statement last week.

“I’ll miss it like you wouldn’t believe,” Reece said of leaving his position on council. “It was the hardest decision I’ll ever make as a politician. But at the same time, it was one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever made as a husband and father.”

Reece’s resignation will allow him to support his wife and their business while keeping their family together, he said. His alternative option – to remain in Durham with his children while Laura works in Europe – didn’t line up with his priorities. 

“That’s just not the family life we all signed up for,” Reece said. 

Reece was re-elected as an at-large council member in 2019, and his current term was set to end on Dec. 4, 2023. 

In his statement to city council and constituents, Reece expressed appreciation for his colleagues and his time serving Durham. Announcing his resignation was “emotionally challenging,” Reece said in an interview with The 9th Street Journal. But he said he’s leaving Durham in capable hands. 

“I am confident that this council is moving our city in the right direction,” Reece said. “I know that they will appoint someone who loves Durham as much as I do, and that’s what matters.” 

Once Reece officially resigns next week, city council will have 60 days to appoint his successor, as required by Durham’s city charter. The council will choose a replacement from a pool of applicants. Any adult living within city limits and registered to vote in Durham is eligible to apply. 

The process of appointing Reece’s successor will be quite similar to previous years’, according to Mayor Pro Tem Mark-Anthony Middleton, who will oversee the procedure. The council had to fill a vacancy in 2018 when Mayor Bill Bell retired, and again in 2020 following council member Vernetta Alston’s resignation.

Council will post an application online shortly after Reece’s last day, Middleton said. The list of applicants will be made available to the public, he added.

Durham citizens will have the opportunity to voice their opinions on candidates for Reece’s seat, Middleton said. Finalists selected by city council will be invited to an interview with current council members, he said, and each finalists’ interview will be broadcast online.

After the interviews are complete, citizens will be able to submit comments as in past years, Middleton said. In 2018, the council held an in-person public comment session. In 2020, due to the pandemic, Durhamites were instead invited to call in or email their comments regarding the finalists. 

After receiving public comment, council members will vote to select Reece’s successor. A finalist needs four votes from the six council members in order to be appointed.

“I think it’s a really strong process,” Reece said. “It provides transparency and allows anybody who wants to to apply, and it allows the public to weigh in with us about their thoughts and concerns about the various applicants, especially at the finalist stage.”   

Reece said he chose to announce his resignation now so that his successor will have ample time to get acclimated to the role ahead of city budget decisions this June. 

“I want the appointee to have enough time to dig into what is a pretty dense process,” he said. 

While his wife conducts business with their company’s new partners, Reece does not plan to work when his family arrives in Europe. He will miss serving Durham immensely, he said, but he’s ready for the change. 

“I’m going to be a stay-at-home dad for the next little while,” Reece said. “There are pleasures and rewards for that life as well, and I look forward to discovering them.” 

Above: Durham City Council member Charlie Reece, who won reelection in 2019, will depart the Bull City later this spring. Photo by Cameron Beach – 9th Street Journal

Caroline Petrow-Cohen