BRISTOL, Tenn. – As Bill Sorah winds down his time as city manager of Bristol, Tennessee, he describes his final days on the job as an “emotional roller coaster.”
“You’re looking forward to the next chapter, but you’re also very scared about the next chapter,” Sorah said. “I’ve been in local government service for 45 years, over 31 in the city of Bristol, Tennessee, and I’m not sure how it’s going to feel when I wake up that first morning and I have nowhere to go.”
Friday was Sorah’s last day with the city, having served as city manager for the past nine years. Before that, he was interim city manager twice and deputy city manager for 22 years.
Last September, Sorah announced his plans to retire, saying the time was right for him and the city. “Organizational leadership transition is important in every organization,” said Sorah. “I think that’s especially true in local government.”
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A native of Bristol and a graduate of Tennessee High, Sorah attended Belhaven College in Jackson, Mississippi, where she began playing youth soccer. Returning to Bristol after graduating from Belhaven in 1976, Sorah began playing soccer in the Virginia High School League and went to work for the Bristol, Virginia Department of Parks and Recreation. He would later attend graduate night classes at East Tennessee State University to earn a master’s degree in urban management in 1980.
In 1989, Sorah began serving in the South Atlantic Conference, and in 1991 he joined Bristol, Tennessee as the city’s assistant director of operations. In 1997, he moved to the Southern Conference, and four years later to the Sun Belt Conference, a job that would lead to several postseason berths, including the Peach Bowl. After retiring from the football field in 2015, Sorah took over as the Southern Conference’s replay official in 2018, a job he has continued since.
Those long weeks and months were fun traveling on official government weekdays and official football weekends, Sorah said.
“I think you’re happiest in life when you’re looking for challenges,” Sorah said. “I wouldn’t trade those memories, those challenges and that time for anything.”
In the city manager’s final report to this month’s City Council, Sorah summarized the highlights of his city manager tenure, touching on issues such as economic development, partnerships, public safety and infrastructure, but perhaps most notable was the financial situation that leaves the city. .
When Sorah was named city manager in 2014, he said the city’s general fund balance was $11.5 million, compared to more than $22 million at the end of the last fiscal year. The city has also seen strong local option sales tax numbers, which went from $5.3 million in 2014 to a record $8.78 million in the fiscal year, according to Sorah, who said the city is also on a record pace this year.
In the last six years, more than 450 one- and two-bedroom houses have been built in the city, more than in the previous forty years, said Sorah in his latest report to the council. Two major subdivisions are currently under construction that will bring hundreds of single-family homes to the city.
“We’re moving the needle on residential housing,” Sorah told the council. “Bristol is hot at headquarters, and you’re poised for future success.”
With Sorah’s departure, Bristol, Tennessee enters a new chapter.
Last month, the city hired a new city manager, Kelli Bourgeois, who comes to Bristol, having previously served as city manager in Columbia Heights, Minnesota. Economic Development Director Tom Anderson will serve as interim city manager until Bourgeois arrives.
In Sorah’s eyes, the city is in good hands going forward.
“I think there will be growth in the next decade,” Sorah said. “He will see economic prosperity. All the pieces are in place to grow and sustain our community for decades to come.”
With roots firmly planted in Bristol, Sorah, who turns 69 this autumn, said he will remain in retirement but plans to travel and enjoy time with his wife.
When asked if officiating in college football had any similarities to managing a city, Sorah didn’t hesitate, “absolutely.”
“Both careers can have quite a bit of criticism,” Sorah said. “Both careers can have considerable levels of stress. Both careers sometimes require quite quick judgment and you better be right most of the time.’