Williams named Jackson Public Works Director

Charley Williams, Interim Public Works Director
Charley Williams, Interim Public Works Director(City of Jackson)
Published: Oct. 27, 2020 at 1:25 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Charles Williams invoked famed Gen. Douglas MacArthur when he discussed accepting the nomination for Jackson public works director.

MacArthur said a true leader doesn’t set out to be a leader, “but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.”

The city council unanimously approved the mayor’s decision to name Charles Williams public works director, making it the first time the longtime city official has held the position in a non-interim capacity.

It’s a position Williams refused to take, despite being offered the role in the past.

It’s also a position he didn’t want.

The former University of Mississippi football player not only shunned the spotlight, but turned down offers because he didn’t want to lose the civil service protection, which he would give up by taking an appointed position.

Public works director is one of the most high-profile, unstable positions in city government, and typically changes every time a new mayor is elected. And there’s less than a year left in Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba’s first term.

Even so, Williams agreed to take on the position, and vowed to do his part to move the city forward.

“My journey to this spot has not been easy … I’ve tried to rely on my ability, my motivation and my attitude,” he said. “One thing that will still continue is that we will continue to hustle, continue to grind and continue to persevere in everything we do.”

Williams has been serving in an interim capacity since the resignation of Robert Miller earlier this year. Previously, he served as engineering director.

In his new role, he will lead a department that has seen its share of challenges in recent years, from the water billing crisis to crumbling roads and a $945 million sewer consent decree.

The city is still working out problems associated with its water billing overhaul, which was completed in 2015.

Meanwhile, the Lumumba administration is trying to hammer out a new agreement regarding its sewer consent decree. Under current terms, Jackson has 17.5 years to make $945 million in improvements to its aging sewer system to bring it into compliance with federal water quality laws.

The decree is governed by the U.S. Department of Justice, Environmental Protection Agency and Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality. Talks with EPA and U.S. DOJ related to decree provisions are ongoing.

Williams also will be leading the department as it moves forward on projects associated with the city’s one-percent infrastructure bond.

Jackson recently issued $40 million in bonds, to be paid for with revenue from its one-percent infrastructure sales tax. After all fees are paid, about $35 million is available for use on road repaving, reconstruction projects and other work.

Prior to the vote, Williams was praised by the mayor and council members.

“I’ve known him all 19 years he’s been with the city,” said Ward Seven Councilwoman Virgi Lindsay. Lindsay met Williams during her time as director of the Greater Belhaven Foundation.

“He quietly finds a way to get things done, despite challenges, and the staff shortages and the funding,” she said. “You dig in and get the work done.”

She pointed to the fact that Williams has been one constant in public works, even as the city has faced tumult up top.

“You were the one constant … during the time when the city went through five mayors and (multiple) directors,” she said. “That’s when people got to see your true leadership skills.”

As for civil service protection, Ward Three Councilman Kenneth Stokes made a motion to extend civil service protections to Williams in his new role.

The council was unsure if they could approve that measure legally. However, Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said he would do everything he could to protect Williams if he was not re-elected.

“For some reason, if I’m in a position where I’m not holding this seat anymore, then I would make certain my final move would be to protect him,” he said.

Ward One Councilman Ashby Foote asked if Williams needed any new support staff to help him in his new role.

The new director said he is now looking at reorganizing the entire department, in part, to make it work better.

“We’ve been able to identify the critical positions that need to be put in public works so it will flow more efficiently,” he said. “I have identified those positions and as our organizational chart evolves, you will see where we are trying to go.”

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