Commissioners voted 3-2 to get rid of Ruffin. The move surprised some county commissioners.
"I tell you, it's all I can do to hold back the tears," County Commissioner Becky Heron said.
"The first phone call I received this morning was a good cursing out," County Commissioner Joe Bowser said.
Bowser insists the vote was not personal, instead boiling down to a difference of opinion. He points to a controversial audit of the county's human resources department, and blames Ruffin for not addressing the problems in that report.
"This man, I have not enjoyed working with him point-blank," he said.
Chairwoman Ellen Reckhow, who backs Ruffin, credits him with bringing much needed development to Durham. She thinks he is a victim of bad blood among board members.
"This started about a year ago and just built up," she said. "This is a real low point for Durham County government."
Political science professor Jeffrey Elliot sees more than simple politics at play.
"This is the city of Durham and this is Durham politics. This is racial politics. This is partisan politics," he said.
Even though the vote was divided down racial lines, Bowser said it played no part in the move.
"If I had a black manager who received an audit such as this and did nothing about it, I'd fire him as quick as I would fire a white person," he said.
Ruffin has been on the job since 2000. His last day is Friday. In June, commissioners did a study to gauge the work climate in county offices. Employees gave Ruffin excellent scores in almost every area.
Commissioners will discuss appointing an interim county manager Tuesday. Two of the commissioners who voted to fire Ruffin will leave the board in December. When the new board is seated in a few months, it is possible they could vote to rehire Ruffin.
It is the second time in recent months that a Durham officials was let go. City Manager Marcia Conner was fired two months ago.
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