Durham Magazine Oct/Nov 2020

Page 28


Burning Questions ...


with Wanda Page, interim city manager

residents, particularly in communities of color. These inequities have led to slower-thandesired progress in areas such as economic prosperity and safe, affordable housing options for all residents. These are just a few examples of issues that will take creative, innovative thinking and consistent, sustainable and equitable engagement to find solutions that lead to real progress. Finally, in order for city government to effectively partner with the community to find solutions to these and other issues, we must prepare and plan for a strong fiscal recovery from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and its unprecedented impact on many of the short- and long-term master plans and financial models developed pre-pandemic. COVID-19 recovery efforts will be one of my key responsibilities as interim city manager.

he Durham City Council appointed Deputy City Manager Wanda Page to act as

the interim city manager beginning Oct. 1 after City Manager Tom Bonfield notified the council of his retirement, effective Sept. 30. Wanda serves in this interim role while the council begins a national search for a new city manager. Wanda joined the City of Durham in 1987 as a senior staff accountant and worked her way up until she became one of three deputy city managers in 2008. She currently serves on the executive board of the Lincoln Community Health Center Foundation and on the Advisory Board of the Public Administration Department at N.C. Central University. Before COVID-19, you could most often find her at one of her favorite downtown businesses, Beyu Caffe. She lives with her husband, Craig Page, in Huntington Ridge. The couple have two adult children, William and Kelly.

What do you hope to tackle in your first few days and weeks in this role? I plan to spend a lot of time in conversations. I will be

speaking with city department directors, the mayor and Durham City Council members, other community leaders and residents, and city employees who serve Durham residents every day. I will introduce to some – and reintroduce to others – Wanda Page, the leader, and Wanda Page, the person. I will do a lot of listening. I am anxious to hear hopes and fears, priorities and expectations, updates on current projects, and new ideas and interests. I want to discover through this dialogue how I can apply my experience, knowledge and abilities to the opportunities and challenges facing our city. I have achieved success in both my professional and personal life by building trusting relationships that have always begun with, and been nurtured by, authentic conversations. During a leadership transition in a large, diverse organization like the City of Durham government, I cannot think of a more fruitful way to spend my first days and weeks settling into my new leadership role. What are the most pressing issues that the city needs to address and find solutions for? Creating a safer community is high on this

list. The challenges in this area are great, and effective solutions are complex and must involve constant innovation and a broad range of collaborators and partners. Another issue is the impact and persistence of inequitable systems that continue to impact the quality of life of 26




october/november 2020

What’s the biggest challenge facing this position? From my perspective,

at this time in history, [it’s] leading the organization through COVID-19 impacts. The city, like most organizations, was forced to close its facilities to the public for health and safety reasons, with many employees working remotely, while others provided essential services safely in the community. On a daily basis, organizational leaders, with input from our elected officials, employees and residents, developed and reimagined policies and operating procedures that enabled the city to continue to serve the community admirably in a “new normal.” What major lessons have you learned in your more than 30 years

working for the city? The first lesson that comes to mind is confirmation

that you cannot build and sustain a great organization without great employees. Employees need to be appreciated, celebrated and properly rewarded for their work. Employees should be included in decisions that impact their work and the customers they serve. Another lesson is the importance of engaging residents in decisions that impact their lives. As