BEAUFORT, S.C. (Jan. 12, 2023) – Bill Prokop is stepping down as city manager of the City of Beaufort in a couple of days, tying a bow on a successful career in public service – after a full career as an executive for an international firm and as an entrepreneur.
“Bill, it’s been an absolute honor to serve with you over the last eight years. I’ve always said that of all the votes I’ve cast, the most important one was the one to hire you as city manager,” Mayor Stephen Murray said at City Council on Jan. 10, the last meeting Prokop attended as city manager.
“The city is absolutely in a better place today than when you started eight years ago. I started to jot down a list of achievements and accomplishments but we would be here hours if we went through all of them. I’ll simply say ‘thank you.’”
Prokop, who is retiring and hopes to spend time with his wife, Missy, traveling and seeing more of his family, became city manager in 2015, after serving for about a year as director of Human Resources and interim city manager.
Prokop was an executive at Berol Corp. for almost 20 years, helping the company expand internationally, to where it had more than 2,000 employees and seven international plants.
In 1984, he started an office equipment company, Graphic & Office Products Inc., which grew over the years with the help of his middle son. He was elected town selectman for the Town of Antrim, N.H., and when the town administrator left, he was urged to apply for the job. “I found that I enjoyed working in town government, and that led to me being recruited to a larger city – Keene, N.H.,” he said. Prokop was assistant city manager and HR director for Keene from 2008 through 2014.
He and his wife started to think more seriously about retirement. They had vacationed on Hilton Head Island, and enjoyed the Lowcountry. But Prokop wasn’t quite ready to call it a day, and the City of Beaufort had an opening for HR director. He was hired, and within a year was city manager.
Prokop has made a mark on the City of Beaufort both internally and externally.
Said Deputy City Manager Reece Bertholf, “Bill is a transformational leader. Everyone who works alongside Bill is better off for it.”
Commitment to employees
As city manager, Prokop brought with him a strong sense of the importance of the employees. “My first boss, for 12 of 18 years, was a fantastic mentor,” he said. “He drove home the point constantly that the people in your company are your most important asset. If your people are content and treated properly, you can get good results.”
Prokop’s belief in the importance of the employees to an organization became apparent to then-Mayor Billy Keyserling as City Council considered appointing him interim city manager. Keyserling talked informally to employees to get their feedback. “Every single person said he was the man, from police officers to public work staff,” Keyserling said. “Bill has the capacity to not stress, and to not let any problem grow to become unsolvable.”
During Prokop’s tenure, the City improved its benefits for its employees and worked to make pay competitive with other regional governments. Among the new benefits is a home down payment loan program, which recognizes the burden the cost of housing has on staff.
Ivette Burgess, who is now director of HR for Beaufort, recalls that when she first worked with Bill, “He would always say this to me – ‘Our staff is our most valuable asset.’ Bill is very big on development and training and he recognizes very well that without our staff, the City could not do what we do collectively.”
Prokop was concerned about the state of the City’s physical assets when he became city manager. “Our physical assets were not being properly maintained,” he said. “Over the last several years, we’ve addressed infrastructure and facility needs.” This has included significant stormwater improvements, streetscape projects, repairs to The Arsenal and Carnegie Library building, and playground improvements at Waterfront Park and Washington Street Park. He leaves with a number of capital projects in the pipeline.
More economic development
Prokop’s commitment to economic development and diversifying Beaufort’s job base has led to more companies coming to Beaufort Commerce Park, the launch and growth of the Beaufort Digital Corridor, the opening of the Southern Carolina Landing Pad for companies looking to expand in the United States, and the launch of the South Coast Cyber Center to encourage the growth of cyber security education in the Lowcountry.
“Bill Prokop has earned a strong reputation in the business community as a champion for economic development, process efficiency and customer service,” said Ian Scott, chairman and CEO of the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce. “His most enduring impact on the region may be the quiet way he has built alignment and collaboration.”
John O’Toole, who, as executive director of the Beaufort County Economic Development Corporation, worked closely with Prokop, said, “It’s been a career highlight to work with Bill Prokop! Bill exemplifies character traits that we can all strive towards – gentleman, caring, man of his word, creative problem solver, wise and a servant leader!”
Preserving the Historic District
As city manager, Prokop was sensitive to Beaufort’s historic character. During his tenure, the City partnered with Historic Beaufort Foundation (HBF) on a number of projects, most recently, an update of the Beaufort Preservation Manual.
“Our experience working in partnership with Bill Prokop on all matters relating to historic preservation proved most beneficial to our joint goals of protecting and preserving the character of our National Historic Landmark District,” said Cynthia Cole Jenkins, executive director of HBF. “Bill was always willing to listen and address pivotal programs that enhance the preservation protections the City has put in place over the past five decades. I am grateful for the opportunity to work closely with him on so many issues important to preserving Beaufort’s architectural and cultural heritage for the future.”
Prokop is proud of the City’s commitment to transparency – anyone can review the City’s budget or check on reports and statistics from the Police and Fire Departments on the City’s website.
The City developed its first Strategic Plan under Prokop’s leadership, and the plans since then have given the public a blueprint of the City’s objectives during a defined period. The Strategic Plans have kept department managers on track as well, as they work toward clearly defined goals.
His advice to his successor, Scott Marshall, is simple: “Enjoy the job as much as I have. It’s a great city with great people.”
(Photo: Bill Prokop, 2nd from left, at Beaufort retreat in April 2022. The annual retreats allowed the City to take stock of its Strategic Plan. He is flanked by Deputy City Manager Reece Bertholf and Mayor Stephen Murray.)