Durham's new city manager starts today

Bonfield is fourth to take post in 10 years

Staff WriterAugust 11, 2008 

— New City Manager Tom Bonfield reports to work this morning, and one City Council member predicts "a new day in Durham."

"We all believe he will hit the ground running," Councilman Eugene Brown said last week. "We look forward to a new chapter in the life of city government."

Bonfield himself was less effusive.

"The first day is kind of overwhelming no matter what job you take," he said, speaking by phone from Pensacola, Fla., just before setting out for Durham. "I don't come into the job with any preconceptions."

Bonfield, 53, whose hiring was announced June 3, will be Durham's fourth city manager in the past 10 years. He succeeds Patrick Baker, who got the job full time in January 2005 after five months as interim. A former assistant city attorney, Baker will now head the City Attorney Office.

Baker succeeded Marcia Conner, who resigned under fire in 2004 after serving three years in the post. Her predecessor was Lamont Ewell, who arrived in 1997 and left for San Diego in 2000.

Bonfield had been Pensacola's manager for 10 years, and that city's mayor, John Fogg, has called him "absolutely the most professional city manager I've ever worked with."

Pensacola, on the Gulf Coast, has about 54,000 residents, compared with Durham's estimated population of 222,700.

Bonfield said rehabilitating Durham neighborhoods would be a priority. Ken Gasch, president of the InterNeighborhood Council of Durham said the incoming city manager has made an encouraging gesture in that direction.

"I heard he was real intent on making sure the folks driving him around took him to the disadvantaged areas, the areas that are rough around the edges," Gasch said.

To start, Bonfield said, he expects to huddle with his senior staff and set priorities for the week ahead. Through August, he expects to spend a lot of time with Mayor Bill Bell, City Council members and people prominent around town.

Bonfield was in Durham for the Fourth of July weekend, and was on hand for the rained out fireworks. It gave him a chance to impress council member Diane Catotti.

"He noticed a lot of things the city could have done better," she said, such as having backup batteries and emergency lighting ready to go. He mentioned his thoughts to those in charge and, by the time the rescheduled show went on, they had been implemented.

"Clearly," Catotti said, "he has his eyes wide open."

jim.wise@newsobserver.com or (919) 956-2408

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