Topeka City Manager Prepares for Annual Evaluation

TOPEKA, Kan. - Topeka City Manager, Norton Bonaparte, Jr., is celebrating his third anniversary as city manager.

Bonaparte spoke with media Friday, March 13 about what he's done for Topeka and what plans he has for the future. He said starting as Topeka's first city manager in 2006, the city council is still dealing with the transition into a council-manager form of government.

"When you had a change of form of government you didn't necessarily have a complete change of the council," Bonaparte said. "You have a number of council members that were elected to the council under the old form of government. So yes, I think it's very natural for there to be some transitioning period and part of that is education as well as some training."

Bonaparte said he has established three initiatives: transforming the organization (Topeka) from good to great; improving communications with citizens and employees; and developing a performance management program.

Bonaparte said his greatest frustration up to this point has been financial - not having all the financial resources for things Topekans have said they want to see in the city.

"Our roads are in terrible condition. That was the item that came out on the citizens' survey that the citizens of Topeka are least satisfied with in terms of the city government," Bonaparte said. He also mentioned the City cut back on hours for some fire companies, closed community centers, and no longer cuts lawns of people in violation of city code.

Bonaparte says he's most proud of building a stable form of government. "One of the good things about a council-manager form of government is that you don't have change in top executives simply because there's an election," he said. "If a department director is not cutting their mustard then a city manager can fire them. They don't have to wait for four years. But if they're doing their job(...) the manager can provide some sense of continuity."

Whether Bonaparte is doing a satisfactory job or not is up to the city council. Members evaluate the city manager at least once a year. "The evaluation process is designed so that the manager stays in tune with what the council is thinking."

Bonaparte said each member of the council has a copy of an evaluation form that they will individually complete and turn into the city council office. That information is compiled and shared with Bonaparte at an executive session meeting between him and the city council. Bonaparte is also given an opportunity to do a self-assessment and report what he's done and his plans to council members.

Bonaparte attends weekly council meetings and said he meets with council members one-on-one to stay in tune with the council's wishes.

The Topeka City Council will conduct its annual review of Bonaparte on Tuesday, March 17.

The council does hold the power to fire the city manager if they feel he/she is no longer carrying out their vision for the city. Bonaparte said that doesn't make him nervous; it comes with the territory. "It's part of the occupational hazard that the council at any time for any reason can decide that they want to change the manager and make the determination to fire the manager," he said. "I never take job security for granted. What I'm focused on is doing the best job I can."

Bonaparte said he'd like to be in Topeka for a while. When asked about interviewing for a city manager position in Wichita last year, Bonaparte said he never went looking or applied for the job, he was asked by a friend if he would be considered.


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