New Durham city manager takes office

August 12, 2008 1:46:41 PM PDT
Durham's fourth city manager in the last decade is officially on the job. Tom Bonfield took over from outgoing manager Patrick Baker Monday. Bonfield comes to the Bull City from Pensacola, Florida, where he had been manager for 10 years. Bonfield met with reporters for about a half-hour on his first day at City Hall, and he shared his views on a wide range of topics affecting the Bull City.

On hitting the ground running as city manager: "I intend on spending the next many weeks, quite frankly, doing a lot of listening and asking a lot of questions... While I've been managing cities for over 30 years, there's some similarities, but there's no two places that are alike."

"I do plan on spending the next significant period of time whether that's 30 days or 60 days, we'll have to see where it is, doing everything I can to learn about this community, learn what's working well, learn what needs to work better, meet with the mayor and city council in extensive discussions, meet with the staff, get out in the field and meet with department directors, but more important than all of that, meet with community organizations and community leaders. I don't purport to know but a thimbleful at this point about the community and how city government can help make the community a better place."

On what themes he's employed as city manager in the past: "That we have an organization that has a culture around service to citizens... second, that the government has a strong financial plan and that maintains a strong financial status... and then, finally, strong neighborhoods. I have a reputation as prioritizing strong neighborhoods as important. I firmly believe that neighborhoods -- strong neighborhoods in particular -- are the building blocks of successful cities, so we're gonna take a hard look at what neighborhood programs we have in place and what we can do to create some stronger neighborhoods throughout the community."

On Durham's reputation and what he'd like it to be: "As I've looked at the community for the better part of 4 months now, the initial so-called reputation was something that, I kind of say, 'I wonder what that's all about'. But the more I have learned about the community, the more I've experienced it... I haven't seen or experienced some of the negativity and some of the things that people and ourselves, we seem to sometimes want to beat the community up about... The majority of what I've seen has been extremely positive... Sometimes maybe the community becomes so focused on itself that it doesn't look outside the region even or outside the state and see what is going on in so many other communities around the country that are not nearly as positive as what's happening in Durham... I think there's more to be envious of, quite frankly, than concerned about so far."

On being open to the public and press during difficult times/circumstances: "We are just stewards of the community's assets, and it's important that we do everything we can through the media and through other mechanisms to communicate with the public about the facts of whatever is going on, whether that's good facts or not-so-pleasant situations.. I think my reputation's always been a very open relationship with the media. I've certainly taken my lumps over the years but have learned it's better to establish those in a positive way right up front and have a reputation of being a straight shooter however it turns out."

On reducing crime in trouble neighborhoods: "I think that we have to recognize that in a community, just as in a chain, the so-called weakest link is as strong as the entire chain, and it is important that we do everything that we can to build up capacity in neighborhoods, build up capacity and hope in human beings... It's important to recognize it's more than having a police officer on every corner, or to think that every time a crime happens it's the police department's fault or it's local government's fault... It's really going to take continuing to work together, with community leaders, with local government, with law enforcement, with education to seek those solutions... You have to develop trust within those neighborhoods and you have to develop trust with people who are willing to be involved."

On his relationship with the police department: "I don't think it's the manager's role to micromanage the police department. I don't think it's the manager's role to turn around and basically say the police department manages itself and whatever the police department necessarily wants they get... Ultimately the responsibility for the police department stops with me... I've has some very positive meetings with Chief (Jose) Lopez and look forward to many more."

On concern over completion of capital projects: "I think there's pretty consistently a concern that the city has not met, in a timely manner, some of the commitments that were made on a variety of capital projects, so that's an area that I want to take a look at really quick to get a better feel for just where are the gaps, what are the problems that may be keeping the city from delivering everything from road projects to recreation facilities..."

On getting to know the Bull City: "I really believe it's important for a new city manager to experience everything that's possible to experience, whether that be community events, neighborhood meetings, just meeting people. I stopped people over the weekend at the grocery store, introduced myself and just asked them what they thought of Durham... a new city manager can never stop asking questions, just being out and about and experiencing the community."

On Durham's gang issue: "I've heard mixed opinions about the whole gang issue here. Some people have said, there are significant gang issues. Others have just said, 'well, that's the word we use, but it's not really gangs.' I don't know enough about that. What I do know is that it takes an entire community to address the youth issues... I firmly believe it's important for everybody in the community to be involved in creating a culture that young people have hope."


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