James Norlund, 56, has been steadily climbing the administrative ranks at Manassas Park City Hall, where he began work as a bookkeeper in 1978. Now perched at the top as city manager, Norlund is preparing to tackle the high ground.

In the process, Norlund says, he will not veer too far from the path well worn by his predecessor, Jerry Davis. "I'm my own man, but if I can be half the city manager Jerry Davis was, then that's fine," Norlund said.

He said he expects to make no major changes in operations at City Hall. "I would like it if {city staff} didn't even know that the city manager had changed."

Norlund, former director of fiscal services and assistant city manager, assumed his new position in mid-June when Davis resigned to join Signal Hill Development Corp. Davis is vice president in charge of the firm's plans for a mixed residential and commercial project on 404 acres in Manassas Park, recently annexed from Prince William County.

A retired Army officer, Norlund has a one-year contract with the city that will be reviewed at the end of his first year. His annual salary is $54,000.

Thus far, Norlund's work seems to please the City Council, which promoted him at the recommendation of Davis.

The council decided not to do an outside search for other candidates because of the cost.

Norlund's "strong point is Jerry Davis's recommendation," said council member William Wren. "He's a great talent: He's just like Jerry Davis, quiet, very efficient, not hasty -- just an excellent manager."

One of Norlund's first moves in his new job was to endorse the council's decision to bring back Davis as an unpaid consultant on three major projects, two of them connected to Signal Hill Development Corp.

The City Council had the city attorney consider any possible conflicts of interest in the arrangement, and the city attorney will give the council his findings this week.

"This will be {Davis's} swan song," Norlund said. "He got these {projects} off the ground. He knew all the players. Things are so close to being wound up, it would be a shame to bring a new person in there, such as me -- an unknown quantity."

Former council member Ernest Evans, who stepped down June 30, was critical of the decision to bring back Davis as a consultant. He said the projects could benefit Signal Hill Development, presenting a conflict of interest for Davis.

It also puts Norlund in an awkward position, Evans said. "I didn't understand why Mr. Norlund accepted the offer. Why didn't he say, 'Hey, I'm your manager. I can do this now'?"

However, current council members said using Davis as a consultant is not a vote of no confidence for Norlund and that they are not pressuring Norlund to emulate Davis.

"I don't think there's any pressure on Jim. I think Jim can hold his own," said council member Frances T. Embrey.

In particular, council members have expressed confidence in Norlund's financial management skills.

Davis said Norlund was instrumental in restoring financial order to City Hall in the late 1970s, when the new city's accounting records were in disarray.

Embrey explained that the next few months will be a "learning process" for the council as well as the new city manager. "We {the council} need to get more involved in more areas" of the city's administration, Embrey said. Recently the council established a finance committee to keep the council better apprised of the city's finances.

In his first few weeks in office, Norlund has been looking at the work of the various departments , and, according to Director of Parks and Recreation William Malcom, hitting it off with his staff.

"There is no question that he has been well accepted by staff," said Malcom, describing Norlund as having a "strong rapport with all department heads . . . very receptive to other opinions and very concise in his decisions."

Feeling a trifle overwhelmed with all of the administrative details, Norland said, "I'm still smiling. Not as much, but it will all come together. I'm not worried."

Norlund lives in Occoquan Forest with his wife, Oleta, but plans to move soon to Manassas Park.