I try to keep this blog and my work seperate (I work in the Finance department for the City of Durham). But this is one time I’m gonna break the rule. There is a nice article in this morning’s Herald Sun about Durham’s new City Manager, Patrick Baker and how he has improved morale of City employees. I would just like to echo that Patrick Baker has always been a fine man, and he is a great leader for Durham.
PATRICK BAKER, YOU HAD ME AT “HELLO”!
New city manager receives warm reception as City Hall morale rises
BY GINNY SKALSKI :
Feb 5, 2005 : 8:02 pm ET
DURHAM — As Durham’s new city manager, Patrick Baker is getting used to seeing his picture in the newspaper.
But there was a day early last month when seeing his photo in ink sent him to the county jail.
It happened the day after a young man accused of shooting an 18-year-old woman at a downtown nightclub turned himself in to police.
Two stories in the newspaper that day painted starkly different pictures.
One featured Baker, smiling slightly in the photo, talking about efforts to close a downtown intersection.
The other was about the young man’s arrest. Accompanying it was a police mugshot of the 20-year-old with frizzy hair, half-closed eyes and a scowl.
“There was something sort of about my picture, with kind of a grin on my face and being the manager, and his picture with hair all over the place and not a really happy face, and that just sort of struck a chord with me,” Baker said.
The next day, a Sunday, the then-interim city manager drove his Range Rover to the jail to learn what allegedly prompted the man to fire several shots into MK’s House of Jazz and R&B.
What Baker found was a scared gang member who had never met his father and already had two children.
Nobody asked Baker to go to the jail. It was a trip, he said, he felt he had to make.
“As a community, we’ve got to engage these kids because we’re losing them left and right,” Baker said. “I can double the police force if people want me to, but it’s not going to help. We’re still going to have the same kind of problems.”
The City Council hired Baker as city manager on Jan. 14.
For five months, he had filled in for Marcia Conner, who resigned after a rocky three years. The offer to be interim manager came the day before Baker’s 37th birthday — a “mentally exhausting” day spent helping the council negotiate Conner’s severance package in his previous role as assistant city attorney.
As they tied up the loose ends, council members told Baker they wanted to talk about one more thing. Grinning, they invited him to sit down, and asked if he was interested in the interim position. Then they began grilling him — what was his vision for the city, what did he hope to accomplish?
“It was one of the most surreal moments of my life. There were times during the interview process that I would tap my foot on the floor just to get some sort of sensation,” Baker said. “I was just trying to hold it together.”
Lack of experience seemed a strike against Baker moving from interim to permanent manager. But several council members said they had noticed a boost in City Hall morale during Baker’s temporary stint.
“The change of atmosphere in the organization … caused the council to pick me,” Baker said.
People who know Baker say he has a way of putting others at ease.
Baker points to his small-town upbringing. He was born in Camp Lejeune in 1967, the son of a Marine and a homemaker. Eventually, they moved off base into the nearby Havelock community, population 22,000.
It was a friendly place where everyone knew each other, Baker said. That “small-town mentality” is helping him build trust today with city employees, he said.
Baker’s older brother Anthony calls him genuine, a “straight shooter.”
“Whoever he’s talking to, he’ll get his full attention,” Anthony Baker said. “Whether it’s a secretary in his office or the mayor, neither one of them is going to get more attention because of who they are.”
The youngest of four children, Patrick Baker calls himself “the proverbial ‘oops’ baby” because he was born 10 years after his two brothers and sister. Being the youngest, however, had its advantages, he said.
With all of his siblings out of the house by the time he was 9, Baker had the perk of receiving all his parents’ attention.
Neither of his parents graduated from college, but they emphasized education — and it worked. The four Baker children sport nine degrees among them.
His oldest brother, Scott, was a family doctor before dying of a heart attack in 1998 at age 45. Anthony is a professor at Campbell University’s law school, and sister Marie Watson is an elementary school teacher in Raleigh.
Baker met his future wife, Rae Ann, when she moved into his neighborhood just before they began the seventh grade. But they didn’t become friends until both started playing tennis at Havelock High School.
By their junior year, they were best friends. As seniors, they decided to trade in their friendship for romance.
“He confessed that he was more nervous than I was that it might not last,” Rae Ann said. “He was worried about taking that plunge.”
The high school sweethearts continued seeing each other while Baker attended Wake Forest University and Rae Ann went to UNC Greensboro. They married when he finished law school.
Baker moved to Durham in 1993 to work at the downtown law firm of Poe, Hoof & Reinhardt doing insurance defense and personal injury work. Now he can see his former employer from the window in his corner office on the second floor of City Hall.
The manager’s office has become a second home for Baker. He estimates he works nearly 75 hours a week.
Because he’s not a morning person, he usually works late, sometimes staying past midnight. He tries to slip out of the office early enough to read to his children — Griffin, 6, and Chloe, 4 — before tucking them into bed.
“When we do prayers at night, they always say, ‘Thank you for daddy’s new job,'” Rae Ann said.
On some nights when Baker can’t make it home for dinner, his family will haul takeout food to his office and pop “Shrek 2” or “Tarzan” into the DVD player hooked up to the projection screen in his conference room.
And when Baker needs to work on Sundays, he’ll occasionally take along Griffin and Chloe to give a break to his wife, who is a stay-at-home mom.
“We’ve had to be creative with time, and we’ve really had to guard it,” Baker said. “It’s a constant challenge.”
Rae Ann plans to put a rug in the corner of the office to create a play area, complete with toy- and book-filled baskets.
When City Council members met in August to write a classified ad detailing the manager’s position, they made sure to include the word “challenging.”
Deserved or not, the reputation of Durham’s city government isn’t the best. But Baker said negative labels didn’t keep him from applying for a job that some people wouldn’t go near.
“I really believe in the organization,” Baker said. “I wouldn’t have taken this position if I didn’t believe in the organization and people here. This just plays into, sort of, my strength — making order out of disorder.”
For the past few months, Baker has visited city employees to shake hands and give a short speech about taking ownership and pride in city government.
“When you take an active ownership in it, you take pride in the organization, and you don’t want to see some of the problems that have popped up in the past,” Baker said.
He seems to have won over a city staff hardened by Conner’s more abrasive style. When Baker recently kicked off the city’s annual budgeting process by telling employees they had a lot of work ahead, they burst into applause.
“I think he’s the real deal, the genuine article when it comes to caring about Durham,” said Assistant City Attorney Sherri Zann Rosenthal.
But Baker acknowledges it will take more than a morale boost for Durham to rebound from a string of scandals. Then there’s Durham’s other image problem: crime.
When he was named city manager, Baker made crime his top priority — reducing it, and changing the perception that Durham is an overly dangerous place.
His answer doesn’t necessarily lie in putting more police on the streets. He says he favors fighting crime through neighborhood revitalization and stepping up efforts to enforce the city housing codes and zoning ordinances.
He also believes in the “broken window” theory — that crime increases in blighted neighborhoods because criminals think no one sees or cares.
“I think that we spend way too much time focusing on the Police Department to solve all of society’s ills, and all they’re doing is catching the ones that act outside of our norms and sending them to jail,” Baker said. “And then the court system sends them back at some point in time and we catch them doing it again. I just don’t see the cycle ending.”
One of Baker’s goals is to increase youth programs and other opportunities for young people. He wonders what might have happened if the man he visited in jail last month had had more choices while growing up.
“There were several failures in this kid’s life that go way beyond anything the police could have done,” Baker said. “All the police could do was catch him and send him to jail. Where do we go from here?”