360 Review with Wilson Hooper, City of Charlotte, NC

Posted on December 19, 2014

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Who doesn’t love a good ol’ fashioned performance review? ELGL loves them so much that we’re embarking on a “360 Review of Local Government.” We’re going to evaluate every single inch of the local government arena by talking to ourselves (a.k.a: other local government professionals), tech companies, journalists, professors, and anyone else who hasn’t blocked our email address.


Wilson Hooper

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City of Charlotte, NC

Asst. to the City Manager/Business Manager

What’s one piece of advice that you wish you had taken? Pay more attention in statistics class.

What are you afraid of? That the two beautiful but aging oak trees in my yard are going to give up the ghost on top of my house.

Your hometown? What is it best known for?

Charlotte’s probably best known for being the second-largest banking center in the nation after New York City, and a symbol of the new south.

My original hometown, Lexington NC, is best known for its barbeque. There are more BBQ restaurants per-capita there than anywhere else in the world. Lexington-style is chopped pork shoulder, with vinegar-based red ‘dip’ that’s got flavors of tomato and pepper. And sweet tea. Oh man, the sweet tea.

Which bands would play at your retirement party?


Prince. Just for the theater of it.

Best holiday gift that you’ve received? Given?

I’m a simple guy, just give me a Playstation game or a book and I’m happy.  My anniversary falls within the holiday season. This year, I was supposed to give my wife something made of wood for our fifth anniversary. I planted a Japanese red maple tree in our yard. She loved it.

Outside of family, who has most influenced your life?

The cohort of folks I grew up with in my small church denomination. Many of them have become public servants in fields that are tougher and grittier than the one I ended up in. Amongst them are clergy, special education teachers, therapists, and social justice activists. And they all practice their professions with humility and purpose.



Best part of working in the local government arena. Most frustrating?

The best part is knowing about what’s going on and getting to answer when a friend or family member asks “hey, what’s that building going in there?”. The most rewarding part is the opportunity to be involved in the provision of services that people actually need and use.

Though our responsibility to the community is our most solemn and important responsibility, it’s also the source of much of the frustration we experience in this profession, particularly when years of work can be made moot by a shift in attitude in the community.

Describe the current state of local government. Grade?

Transitioning.  B

Give us three areas in which local government is succeeding.

  • We’ve nearly perfected the efficient and economical provision of bricks and mortar services.
  • We’ve managed to stay alive and effective despite state governments shifting many of their burdens onto us.
  • We’ve acquired a reputation as the most non-controversial level of government.

Give us three areas in which local government needs improvement.


  • We’re enamored with the ‘business case’ and we’re intimidated to undertake things that are right and necessary but may not have that easily quantifiable return.
  • We’re just now starting to practice transparency electively; before we did it reluctantly.
  • We’re destroying our silos, but we’re doing it brick by brick.

For local government, was there any good that came from the Great Recession?

I’d wager the Great Recession acted as a sort of backdoor right-sizing for some organizations. I’m sure there are some leaner and meaner organizations out there now because of it.

Evaluate whether local government is prepared for the ongoing wave of retirements.


To be honest I haven’t really been paying close attention. I’m aware of some of the initiatives that are underway in ICMA and others to address these issues, but I haven’t really assessed their content. I see the value in traditional succession planning, but I also think that,

  • the nature of local government is changing, so the next generation workforce may not need to be a mirror image of the current one, and
  • there’s value in competition, so I’m careful about pre-designating who the next leaders are going to be.

Evaluate local government’s willingness to embrace new technologies.

A fair degree of willingness. I find we’re more than willing to adopt technologies that help us perform our traditional work more efficiently. But we’re not ready to automate everything yet.

Wave a magic wand – what three wishes would you grant local government?


  • Permission from our constituents to take some audacious risks
  • The ability to really engage, and get involved in the local decision making process, the folks on the street and not just the usual suspects who have the means and familiarity on how to be heard in government circles
  • Deliverance from the ugliness that often characterizes public debate. Delivery to healthy tension and constructive debate.

Give a brief evaluation of your state government and the Federal government.

downloadCharlotte’s built a good relationship with the Feds and they’ve been willing to help us, financially and otherwise, with a number of our most significant priorities over the last few years.

The recent power shift in Raleigh has been quick and decisive. The new majority has been very effective at implementing their agenda. However, their agenda has challenged municipalities’ ability to maintain our revenue, responsibly regulate land-use and development in our jurisdictions, and develop creative solutions to local problems. The State of North Carolina has even tried to take over two locally owned enterprises – a water system in Asheville and an airport in Charlotte-  only to be prevented by the courts.

What question(s) should we have asked?

What’s your best advice for getting over that professional hump and getting to the next level?

Supplemental Reading

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