DURHAM, N.C. -- When John P. "Jack" Bond III was hired as Durham County manager in 1984, he took charge of a Sunbelt community struggling with the enviable problem of rapid growth.

Over the next six years, the county's $59 million budget more than doubled; a low unemployment rate dropped further; property values jumped from $3.4 billion to $7.7 billion; and the county staff grew from 850 to 1,200 employees.

When Bond begins working full time next month as the District's city administrator and deputy mayor for operations, he will find a very different set of economic and social barometers that will provide the greatest test yet of his management skills.

As Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon's chief administrator, he will face a city with a towering homicide rate, a stalled economy and a $300 million deficit that is larger than the county budget he once managed.

A manager who colleagues say treats his employees like family, Bond is expected to play a pivotal role in fulfilling Dixon's pledge to cut the fat from the city's 49,000-person work force.

"I'm not going to put out people who don't deserve to be out," Bond said recently, acknowledging the toughest part of his job. "I plan to move slowly, with deliberateness. Because it's hard to kick people without hugging them once in a while.

"The people in {D.C.} government have been working under a terrible cloud. I want to reverse that. And make the public comfortable with what they have -- and make the people doing the work comfortable in the way they've been directed."

Seated in his office in the Durham County judicial center, cluttered with balance sheets, books by management guru Peter Drucker and Washington Redskins memorabilia, Bond muses about the challenges awaiting him.

"It's a drop back and punt situation," he said. "But after I talked to {Dixon} about what she needed in a city manager, I remember saying to her, 'Y'know, I think I can help you.' "

Bond, 53, brings nearly 20 years of municipal management experience to Dixon, a first-time elected official still selecting her top administrators.

Born and reared in Washington, and one of the first black students to graduate from Gonzaga High School, Bond steadily climbed the ladder of city and county management in Southern communities far smaller than the District, including Winston-Salem, N.C., and Petersburg, Va.

His solid credentials and ties to the District catapulted him to the top of the list of 12 candidates Dixon considered for the $90,600-a- year job. He succeeds Carol B. Thompson, a low-key and highly regarded administrator under former mayor Marion Barry.

"He checked out," said Vernon E. Jordan Jr., chairman of the transition team and the person who recommended Bond to Dixon. "Every job {of his} we checked out, he checked out well. Can he make the transition from there to here? That's what we're going to find out."

Bond has been described by some as an instinctual leader and "someone who will shake things up."

A few years ago, one top-level administrator in Durham recalls, Bond approved a request from a health advocacy group to fly a 10-story balloon, shaped like a condom, over county property.

The purpose was to advertise the threat of AIDS and preventive techniques to fight the deadly disease. A furor resulted and the county commission quashed the decision days before the event. Bond told his associate he wasn't bothered by the uproar.

Bond "based his decision on the fact that there is a crisis about AIDS," said Assistant County Manager Paul Warren. "Politically, it might have been unpopular but he felt the purpose behind the decision was right."

"He's going to make you think about why you do things in certain ways," said Jackye Knight, who worked for Bond in Petersburg and Durham.

Subordinates who worked for Bond describe him as innovative and supportive, someone who makes decisions by listening carefully to many opinions. Fellow managers said he is fair and ethical, and has demonstrated a social conscience.

For example, he was instrumental in spearheading an effort to create a county-funded shelter for the homeless in downtown Durham.

Others are more critical, including some Durham commissioners who complained of what they said was Bond's occasionally authoritarian style and his closeness with developers in the county.

Commissioner Rebecca Heron said she isn't sorry to see Bond leave, adding that he should fit in well with Washington-style politics.

"I hear there's a lot of wheeling and dealing there," she said.

Heron said Bond frequently tried to expedite the review of proposed zoning variances when the county should have taken more time to consider the projects, especially those with environmental implications.

Bond said that if he had slowed the review process, it would have been a violation of county rules and the government could have been subject to legal action.

Bond, a graduate of Morgan State College in Baltimore, began his career in government after serving as an Army captain in Vietnam, where he was awarded a Bronze Star, and working for a federally funded anti-poverty program in New Jersey.

He landed a job as deputy director of a community action program in Winston-Salem, the home town of his wife, Carol.

Three years later, in 1971, Bond came to the attention of politicians and administrators in Winston-Salem, a city that was intent on promoting blacks into administrative positions.

Richard Davis, an accountant and a two-term Winston-Salem alderman, remembered Bond's ascent in government. He took the city manager aside and recommended Bond. "I was impressed with him," Davis said. "Whatever they assigned him to do, he did well."

The manager agreed, but came back to Davis with a concern: Bond didn't have the qualifications to rise higher than a special assistant unless he had a master's degree.

Bond responded by receiving a master's in business administration from Wake Forest University. He moved into the job of assistant city manager, then deputy manager by 1978. The next year, he was hired as an assistant city manager in Miami.

A year later, he got his first big chance when he was appointed city manager of Petersburg, a town 25 miles south of Richmond with a population of 46,000.

Bond and close associates who worked with him during that period say the experience was invaluable in preparing for the challenge he faces today.

Petersburg was in a financial crisis when Bond arrived. The city faced a $1.5 million deficit and one of the town's biggest industries, the Brown and Williamson tobacco plant, was moving away. About 4,000 people eventually lost jobs there.

"He turned the thing around," said Richard Brown, the present city manager who worked for Bond. Bond instituted tough reviews of the budget, departmental requisitions and job openings, Brown said. As Bond recalls, he got his first hands-on budgeting experience in Petersburg.

"I had to put together the entire budget in Petersburg," he said. "I won't have to do that again, but I do know how a budget's done."

From Petersburg, Bond moved to Hillsborough County, Fla., as a deputy county administrator, then to Durham, where he became the first black county manager. Although he sometimes was criticized by black leaders who wanted more aggressive hiring of minorities in a county with a 38 percent minority population, Bond oversaw an administration that increased its minority hiring substantially in six years.

In preparation for his move to Washington in February, Bond has been working half-weeks in the District, conferring with current and former city officials, including Barry.

Bond said he is ready for the new job, its problems and its challenges.

"We all appreciate a honeymoon period. But in doing government, we can't afford that honeymoon period to elapse without something productive to occur," he said. " . . . I'm not running a popularity contest. I try to do things right. And so far it's been pretty right."