Member Profile: William Emerson
Assistant City Attorney
City of Peoria


Where are you originally from?
I was born in Washington, D.C., and raised in Alexandria, Virginia.

Why did you decide to pursue a career in local government?
I have always felt compelled to do my part to make the world a better place, something like a calling to serve others and to maximize my own utility (although those terms came later). I am trained and experienced as a Marine, a pastor, a teacher, a lawyer, and a manager: living out the balance of my professional life in city management produces the most public value from these skills. After law school I spent a couple years in the private sector with a great group of intelligent, thoughtful people; but the disconnect from public service was a persistent source of dissatisfaction for me. I was very lucky to move straight into development and finance work at the local level: the past six years are a blur of development agreements, negotiations, and finished projects of which my city can be proud, and I could only be happier if I could help lead more directly.

What do you like most about your job?
I like the catalytic effect that an apt observation can have on a struggling negotiation: there is that "ah-ha" moment when everyone at the table understands the issue and becomes commonly committed to its resolution. I like that when I am involved in management work, I get the feeling like this is what I was born to do. When I walk around town, I find myself concerned about the success and failure of the businesses and people I pass: what I like most about my job is that I have the privilege of working to turn that concern into effective community action.

What areas of local government interest you the most?
Creating a culture of civic responsibility through the effective delivery of democracy and public services. In practice this usually boils down to guiding development, valuing finance, understanding Council, and spurring community involvement.

As a local government professional, what accomplishment are you most proud of?
As a local government professional, I am most proud that I helped change the City's internal culture and systems related to one of our most important activities, our commitments related to development: our agreements are now more transparent, more comprehensively reviewed, and negotiated in a more informed way. Our efforts resulted in creating a development agreement coordinator position, better management of our obligations, and a more effective harvest of our negotiated benefits.

What was the last book you read?
The Ideal Deal: How Local Governments Can Get More for Their Economic Development Dollar, by Rachel Weber and David Santacroce.
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