Is Hopewell the Next Petersburg?

Downtown Hopewell. Photo credit: Richmond BizSense

by James A. Bacon

Long-time Bacon’s Rebellion readers will remember the fiscal saga of Petersburg, a struggling rust-belt city whose finances were so mismanaged that the city had to call in outside consultants to fix them. The City of Hopewell, another struggling rust-belt industrial town, may be facing the same fate. City Council has appointed Concetta Manker — its former information technology manager — to lead a financial turnaround.

Finances had deteriorated to the point where Virginia State Secretary of Finance Stephen Cummings ordered an outside audit and outlined steps the city should take to get back on track. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Cummings stressed the need to bring in experienced help to get the municipality’s books in order. He even offered $200,000 to help the city find such an executive.

But Council voted “no” yesterday on the idea, and elevated Manker, who was serving as interim city manager, to step into the role officially. Manker’s job would be tough under any circumstances: the city with a population of 23,000 cannot take on debt because it hasn’t even had a credit rating since 2017. Making the challenge even greater, her professional background is IT, not finance.

Crime is high. The schools are a mess. The economy is hollowed out. And City Council apparently is fractious. It would generate confidence if the person leading Hopewell’s financial rescue had a background in… finance.

Petersburg, here we come!