Baker's legacy: bright spots, blunders

Manager named in lacrosse action

Staff WriterDecember 12, 2007 

— A downtown renaissance and a slew of new roads and sidewalks will be remembered as bright points of Patrick Baker's legacy as city manager.

But high-profile blunders and perhaps the most damaging lawsuit the city has ever faced are the serious downsides that threaten to tarnish Baker's tenure.

He helped broker the deal to bring a $44 million performing arts center to downtown. It is scheduled to open late next year as a centerpiece to about $1 billion of public and private investment in downtown in recent years.

Baker also led the way in pushing for $130 million in bond funding in the past two years, with the money being used to build roads, repair old ones, improve parks and refurbish buildings.

That, along with improved employee morale, is the good stuff.

But Baker has faced criticism for the mistakes that have happened on his watch and for a tendency to defend employee actions rather than own up to errors.

Chief among them is the Police Department's mishandling of the Duke lacrosse investigation.

The department, which Baker oversees, broke its own policy and ignored potentially exonerating evidence that allowed rape charges to be brought against three Duke lacrosse players.

The rape charges later proved to be unfounded and were dropped. The city, with Baker named as a defendant, is being sued in federal court for its role in the debacle.

The city also was reprimanded by the state for failing to report tests it took showing high lead levels in some drinking water.

Baker continues to argue the city didn't intentionally try to conceal unfavorable lead testing results. He said officials didn't know that lead tests they took last summer had to be submitted to the state.

Then there was the city's 2006 yard waste dump fire that burned for nearly two weeks, costing hundreds of thousands in cleanup. It soon came to light that the dump had operated for more than two years without a permit.

Most recently, Baker took heat for not enacting mandatory conservation measures to extend the city's water supply. The drought has made Durham's water capacity the lowest in the Triangle. Yet as other local governments were requiring residents to cut back, Durham's water-tightening remained voluntary until September.

matt.dees@newsobserver.com or (919) 956-2433

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