Tom Bonfield - Durham City Manager

Durham is…

by Jay on August 19, 2009

As the chair of the PR committee for the Downtown Durham Rotary Club I often end up writing the report on the program for the weekly bulletin. Last Monday, Tom Bonfield, Durham’s new city manager and a member of the club presented the program. I’m re-publishing my write-up here because Mr. Bonfield made such a good case for Durham and it is my fervent belief that the vibrancy of Durham’s housing market and especially it’s luxury home market is closely tied to Durham’s reputation. Below is the program write-up.

City Manager Tom Bonfield was finally able to give his “state-of-the-city” presentation that was postponed last winter because of a snow storm. We probably benefited because it is clear that approaching his first anniversary in the job, Tom has a clear grasp on the challenges in Durham.

Tom used this opportunity to premier a presentation he and his staff have put together called “Durham is…” that provides a framework for highlighting achievements, current challenges and future planning.

First, Durham is a city of Accolades. There are many including Forbes Top Ten Places for Business and Careers and U.S. News and World Reports’ 10 Best Places to Live. Second, Durham is the City of Engagement. He cited the Partners Against Crime movement, the active neighborhood associations, neighborhood listservs, etc. So impressed was he by this phenomena that during a reorganization he shifted a high level official into a new role in a city Office of Engagement to nurture and respond to this grassroots activity.

Third, Durham is the city of Transformation. He cited the obvious examples of the American Tobacco Campus, West Village, the Durham Performing Arts Center, the Durham Bull Athletic Park. Fourth, Durham is riding out the Recession. Tom mentioned that although unemployment in the city has risen we still have one of the lowest unemployment rates for an urban area in the region. He also mentioned the AAA bond rating that the city has maintained for years. We are currently one of only 21 cities out of 22,500 with that distinction.

Finally, Durham is Planning for the Future. Here he cited the importance of next year’s census which is so key to formulas for revenue sharing at the State and Federal levels. He also touched on the development of a 3 year financial plan that I suspect might add a much needed level of transparency and accountability to the city’s spending.

As encouraging and even visionary as the presentation was there were a couple of things that hinted at why Howard Clement might have described Tom Bonfield in his introduction as the best (of 7) city managers that he has worked with in his 23 years on the Council. First, was Tom’s pride in the fact that only one person in a large audience of city residents had not yet received their new recycling cart. Secondly, during the question and answer session his grasp of the details of crime statistics and pothole repair showed that he understood that first and foremost good city government delivers the day to day services to its citizens.

Early in his presentation Tom compared Durham to a beautiful woman who can’t see anything but her blemishes. True, maybe. But I’ve always thought of Durham as a spirited tomboy that could laugh at her foibles, passionately engage, and dress up nicely when the occasion required it. Nothing in this presentation changed my mind about that.

We are fortunate to have Tom Bonfield in Durham and as a Rotarian in our club. You can subscribe to Tom’s monthly report to citizens at

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