Durham City Manager Tom Bonfield recently consented to a hardball/softball interview, at his own peril.
Bonfield, a former minor league ballplayer with the Yankees, fields the Bull City’s toughest issues on a daily basis.
The interview was done via email and edited for brevity.
Q: “You and the new police chief have the same middle initial. J. She goes by C.J. Do you ever go by T.J? Will you consider it to make things more interesting around here?”
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Bonfield: “Growing up I was Tommy, but I have also been called T.J., Bonzy, and a number of other names not fit to print.”
Q: “Speaking of Chief C.J., how is she doing so far?”
Bonfield: “Chief Davis has had a terrific start. She is working seven days a week to get out and meet the community and at the same time assessing and absorbing everything in the department. After watching her first 60 days, I am more confident than ever about my decision.”
Q: “You’ve been on the job almost exactly eight years. Is it what you thought it would be?”
Bonfield: “Eight years have flown by. The energy and passion for positive change is fun and inspiring. I believe the caliber of our staff is equal or better than any local government staff in the state.”
Q: “Could you give me three words to describe yourself?
Bonfield: “Pensive, caring, private.”
Q: Three words you think others use to describe you?”
Bonfield: “Inscrutable, professional, ethical.”
Q: “What’s the deal with parking fine collection? Sounds like a mess, and maybe some folks should, well, not keep their jobs?”
Bonfield: “Uncollected parking tickets are a problem in Durham and most places where there isn’t a connected system to enforce collection. Did we drop the ball by not properly directing our contractors – yes. Is it something someone should have been fired over – no.”
Q: “What do you think you are best at?”
Bonfield: “Seeing the big picture, “connecting the dots,” and thinking strategically. I’d like to think I am pretty good at inspiring others.”
Q: “People keep getting shot and killed here. It’s the norm. Just more often unexplained violence.”
Bonfield: “Homicides, the number of guns and the propensity for folks, particularly young folks to use them is by far the thing that frustrates and disturbs me the most in my job. I wish I had the answer but I cannot and will not accept ‘it’s just the norm in Durham.’”
Q: “The Carolina Theatre’s mess of a financial picture ... is that over and done?
Bonfield: “I think we pretty clearly know what happened. Durham needs the Carolina Theatre to be successful. But the city should not have to increase the investment it is making.”
Q: “Are you as confident as you seem?”
Bonfield: “If you are not confident after 38 years in this line of work, you are in the wrong profession.”
Q: “Your tenure in Durham roughly coincides with President Obama’s in Washington.You both have gotten grayer, yes? Stress ... or just normal wear and tear?”
Bonfield: “My case of gray hair (or what is really now white) is more a function of heredity than stress. I can count on one hand the number of days I have felt stressed out working in Durham.”
Q: “Who’s in charge of things around here, council or you?”
Bonfield: “I have enjoyed a very successful city-manager career by not answering questions like this.”
Q: “You were drafted by the Yankees in 1977. Do you play fungo with the grandkids or neighbor kids?”
Bonfield: “My brief minor league baseball career with the Yankees after college has very fond memories. While I had a shoulder replacement, so my throwing motion is toast, I do hope to live long enough to play wiffle ball with grandkids.”
Q: “So, it was pretty cool to take the top job in a place home to the Durham Bulls?”
Bonfield: “The Bulls were one of the things that got me interested in coming. Having played mostly first base, I really enjoy sitting somewhere along the right field line.”
Q: “Do you miss Florida? You hail from there, worked there most of your life.”
Bonfield: “I go back to visit my 93-year-old mother several times a year in St. Petersburg. After eight years, I consider Durham my home and love living in NC.”
Q: “What’s Durham’s biggest problem today? Same as when you got here?”
Bonfield: “Gun violence and disconnected youth are the most pressing challenges. Regrettably, they were probably also the most pressing problems eight years ago. While I do think we have made progress, we still have a long way to go.”