Former city manager hired in Emporia
William E. Johnson III to start new position next week
EMPORIA — w Petersburg City Manager William E. Johnson III has found a new job in Emporia, which hired him to be their next city manager starting next week.
Calls to Emporia Mayor Mary L. Person were not returned by press time. In
a press release announcing Johnson's selection, Person said that he "comes highly recommended and is well qualified to move the city forward. We are grateful he chose the city of Emporia to further his career. We look forward to him working with our citizens,
businesses, and the community at large to make our city an even greater place to live and conduct business.”
Johnson was abruptly fired as Petersburg’s city manager in February 2016, when the city’s financial struggles were beginning to come to light. Citizens at the City Council meeting where his termination was announced held posters calling for his dismissal.
Johnson was appointed city manager in Petersburg
in June 2011, at a time when — according to a report released this year by the state Auditor of Public Accounts — the city was "on a steady fiscal decline starting in fiscal year 2009." The city overspent its budget in four of Johnson's five years as city manager, and also entered into a contract to replace the city’s water meters — a deal that led to severe issues with customers' water bills and widespread complaints.
The city's fund balance, or "rainy day" account, also diminished during Johnson's tenure, and millions of dollars in city payments to regional authorities such as the Appomattox River Water Authority and South Central Wastewater Authority fell significantly past due. Auditors found that under Johnson, city money was routinely moved around from one account to another to cover costs. This included the use of grant
funds to pay operational costs such as payroll. The auditors repeatedly warned that there were "material weaknesses" in Petersburg's financial controls. A forensic audit done last year by PBMares found issues with the “ethical tone” exhibited by employees of the city at the time.
Emporia has a population of 5,305, according to 2016 estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. About 33 percent of that population
lives below the poverty level, three times the statewide rate of 11 percent and slightly higher than Petersburg's 29 percent poverty rate, according to Census figures.
In fiscal year 2016, the most recent year for which figures are available, Emporia was ranked No.1 on the state's list of fiscally stressed localities by the Virginia Commission on Local Government. Petersburg was No. 3 on that list.