Local News

Durham's New City Manager Inherits Loan Scandal

Posted November 19, 2002 12:25 p.m. EST

— The city of Durham is in the middle of a financial scandal. Loans of more than $800,000 were made and nearly half of them are delinquent. Two people have lost their jobs, and the city is in the middle of a federal investigation.

Durham City Manager Debra Marcia Conner has only been on the job a little more than two months. Working through a scandal is not exactly what she had planned for her honeymoon period, but what she wants to accomplish is actually pretty simple: she wants to get the Bull City headed back in the right direction - and make sure something like this never happens again.

Conner admits troubles with the small business loan program have overshadowed just about everything; it has made headlines for 22 days, and it is taking a toll.

"At this point, I think we do whatever we need to restore public accountability and be able to move on from this," Conner said. "I am concerned about employee morale and how it's affecting our departments in terms of continuing to provide service."

That is why Conner hopes to get things back on track as quickly as possible. On Friday, the city started looking for a firm to audit all city loans.

"That's a pretty extensive review because there are approximately 600 or more loans in the program that we need to look at and make sure they're performing like they should," Conner said.

Since the loan problems were discovered, the Economic Development department was temporarily disbanded and its duties doled out to other departments. Now, Conner is in charge of high-profile projects like the Liggett renovations and the American Tobacco complex. She insists that even though her plate is full, these will not be put on hold.

"There won't be any slowdown in terms of the city's part," Conner said. "We're going to make that transition as smoothly as possible, get back to the table and begin to negotiate contracts."

Conner admits the loan controversy has left a black eye on city hall but says she strongly believes in the spirit of the program.

"Small businesses are the core of a community, and I think it would be a sad statement if we aren't able to reinstate it," said Conner.

Of course, now it is her job to make sure any future programs are properly managed, but she says her one of her top priorities is to win back the public's trust.