Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Bonaparte Gets Topeka Top Job

Norton Bonaparte Jr. won approval Tuesday (Feb. 14, 2006) to become the first city manager of Topeka, Kans.

The Topeka City Council approved a contract that will give the former Plainfield city administrator and present acting Administration and Finance director a salary of $137,500. Bonaparte will also receive a $550 monthly car allowance, full health benefits and numerous other perks as he assumes the job created in a 2004 restructuring of Topeka city government.

Bonaparte will be the most powerful official in Topeka, able to hire and fire employees and responsible for the city‘s budget and finances. The city manager form of government replaced a strong mayor-council structure.

Bonaparte told WIBW-TV reporter Stephanie Wurtz his first order of business will be getting know the people of Topeka. The CBS 13 News channel broke the story Tuesday as soon as the council voted.

According to information at, Topeka is the state capital of Kansas and county seat of Shawnee County. It had an estimated 122,008 residents in 2003, mostly of German descent, with 12 percent African-American residents. By contrast, Plainfield’s 2003 population was estimated at 48,025 and 62 percent African-American.

Topeka’s violent crime rate according to FBI statistics was 5.9 per 1,000, while Plainfield’s rate was 10.7 per 1,000. The web site ranks gay and lesbian population with 100 as the national rate; Topeka is lower with 83 and Plainfield is more than double at 231.

Bonaparte was in charge of Plainfield’s day-to-day operations from April 2003 until former Mayor Albert T. McWilliams left office Dec. 31. Bonaparte was asked to stay on as department head in charge of Administration and Finance. On Jan. 10, the Topeka council chose him as finalist in a pool of 30 candidates for the city manager job. After weeks of negotiations, he signed a contract and the last step was the council approval Tuesday.

He will begin the job in Topeka March 13.

Known here for his reserve and laconic style, Bonaparte maintained his composure Monday when officials tried to put him on the spot over a November issuance of bond anticipation notes.

Even though the City Council voted to approve the issuance, new Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs told seniors last week the $4.3 million for their new building was not there. Briggs said Monday she had been told there was no bond issue, but was later informed that notes were issued.

Bonaparte’s successor, acting City Administrator Carlton McGee, called the note sale “sort of a rush job” on Nov. 10, just after the November 8 election. He said going into the election there was no debt “and two days later, there was almost $12 million in debt.“

According to the Grant Street Group online auction site, the general obligation bond anticipation notes were put up for sale at 11 a.m. Nov. 3 and were sold within 15 minutes to Zion Bank. The proceeds went to the city on Nov. 10.

McGee characterized the sale as “pell mell” and helter skelter“ and said the new administration was not sure what capital projects it covered.

“We’re still researching it,” he said.

Asked to explain it all, Bonaparte said, “Mr. McGee has stated he is putting together the facts,” expressing confidence that McGee will share his findings with the council.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: administration


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