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When Darlene Burcham left the Roanoke city manager’s job in 2010 (not many months after The Roanoker’s cover story on her in the May/June 2009 issue), it marked the end of one of the controversial periods in the city’s history. There was never much doubt that Burcham, a tall, flame-haired and often stern woman, was in control. She was a hands-on manager—some said “micro-manager”—who often rubbed people the wrong way.
She was also a doting 65-year-old (71 today) grandmother who could be utterly charming and chatty. Her ideas were big and her delivery forceful.
She was asked to leave as city manager after 11 years, not at all unusual in that profession—which many have compared to football coaching for longevity.
The odd twist in her story, however, came with her decision to become town manager for tiny Clifton Forge, about 50 miles north of Roanoke and with a population of 3,884. Her pay went from $173,000 a year to right at $75,000 (as interim town manager, later $99,000 as permanent manager), or a tad more than $19 per Clifton Forge resident. In Roanoke, which had 96,790 residents in 2010, her pay worked out to $1.78 per customer.
Her salary has been a big deal to Clifton Forge residents all along. By 2014, it had risen to $105,000.
Burcham has had a good run in the little town just outside Covington. Clifton Forge, which gave up its city charter in 2001, was struggling in 2010—as it had been for years—and Burcham put her boundless energy to work. In 2014, The Roanoke Times reported that she had been in large part responsible for a Clifton Forge “amphitheater, a school for the arts, a business incubator, a string of festivals, community trails, code enforcement … and about two dozen more businesses than when she arrived, including several good restaurants that draw people from afar.”
Perhaps as important as any of those: “Town revenues for sales, meals and business license taxes have grown by $70,000.”
She reluctantly says today that she is “not interested in being publicized.” A low profile is one of the reasons she is in a small town far from the glare of the news media. “My name gets brought back up in articles both positive and negative and I am not interested in that.”
Clifton Forge, she says, was a town “that was very limited, but we have done some good things” that she declines to discuss.
Burcham was the topic of a controversial May/June 2009 Roanoker cover story that was anything but flattering. At the time, she was quoted on the [Dan Smith] blog fromtheeditr.blogspot.com as saying, “There is so much wrong in the article that I honestly don’t know where to start or if folks will read, or if they really care to hear the truth.”
She is, she says, happy with her life. “I do enjoy” being Clifton Forge’s town manager. She was quoted on the Anderson & Associates website recently as saying, “I’ve never worked harder. In Norfolk [where she was deputy city manager], we had a staff of 4,000. Here, with a staff of 45, I’m a doer more than a supervisor. The upside is that everything we do is noticed, and makes a difference. It gives a sense of validation.”