For­mer city man­ager hired in Em­po­ria

Wil­liam E. John­son III to start new po­si­tion next week

The Progress-Index Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - By John Adam Mul­ti­me­dia Ed­i­tor

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.


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