• Name: William Frank Williams
• Age: 64
• Residence: Estero
• Family: Married, two children
A Northbridge, Mass., elected official isn’t surprised his former colleague Bill Williams is one of two finalists for the interim Lee County manager position.
“Bill has diversified knowledge of municipal government from two states,” said Northbridge Selectman Charles Ampagoomian Jr., referring to Williams’ 35-year tenure as town manager in New York and Massachusetts. “I would hire him back here in a heartbeat, but he won’t come back here. It’s too cold.”
Williams’ former colleagues from New York and Massachusetts painted the 64-year-old Estero Fire Rescue District commissioner as a transparent government official who excels in negotiating and in dealing with controversy. If county commissioners name him interim manager for the next six months, Williams would have to deal with the latter.
County Manager Karen Hawes left the county last week to the tune of $250,000 in severance pay and other benefits after she shut down Medstar. The county’s medical flight program failed to meet federal safety mandates for close to a year and county officials charged patients for about $3.3 million in violation of federal rules.
Williams, who has volunteered on local transportation boards since retiring to Estero three years ago, said the scandal saddened him and inspired him to throw his name into consideration. He believes he has the experience to provide stability. If he’s named interim manager, Williams said his first step would be to present choices to the commission.
“It’s not going to be the manager’s choice on what to do with Medstar,” Williams said. “You just have to give them as many structured options as you can. At this point, privatizing is one of the choices. Another choice is what’s the background from FAA for getting recertified? If we want to run the helicopter, how long will it take to get recertified?”
Williams, who began his government career in 1975 as an assistant village manager in Westchester County, N.Y., believes a county manager’s main job is public safety.
“We talked in management school that security is of the highest importance,” Williams said. “Once you have security you can move up to other needs.”
His former coworkers said Williams can provide a steady hand at a difficult time.
“Back when he was town manager here, we were going through financial difficulties and he always found ways to resolve them,” Ampagoomian Jr. said. “Bill is always thinking two to three steps ahead of any issues you’re having. Even when he’s solving the current issue, he’s looking at the effects of that decision. He’s a forward thinker.”
Ampagoomian Jr. and Williams worked together in Northbridge, Mass. from 1997 to 2003. Williams was a town manager and Ampagoomian Jr. was one of the selectmen.
Williams has served as town manager in five New York towns. In 2008, Williams left his last New York position as village manager in Port Chester, N.Y., to take a similar position in Billerica, Mass.
“We only had him for a short time but in the short period he settled several big union contracts with fire and police,” said Bob Correnti, who served as a selectman for Williams in Billerica. “Our previous manager couldn’t settle them.”
Correnti said Williams doesn’t sugarcoat things when he makes recommendations.
“He’s not going to tell you what you want to hear,” Correnti said. “He’s going to tell you what he perceives as the facts.”
Williams got into some hot water in 2009 when he reportedly criticized Billerica at a Greater Lowell Chamber of Commerce breakfast. Williams told the chamber that the community lacked “curb appeal.”
Residents criticized him for the comments. Marc Lombardo, who was a selectman chairman back then and is now a Massachusetts state representative, said the comments were poorly phrased. A Boston Globe blog picked up the story and received 350 comments.
Williams ended up retiring to Estero shortly afterward. Williams said he had plans of retiring before the controversy, but he said the incident gave him incentive to make the move.
“In hindsight, the comments were taken out of context and put in a headline,” Williams said. “That’s not what I said in full breadth.”
Correnti said what Williams said was true; the town did need work. He said the town’s main street was full of used car lots. Correnti said Williams left on good terms.
Williams has spent the past three years working on local public safety boards. He co-chairs a transportation committee for the Estero Council of Community Leaders. The committee represents all Estero transportation issues for federal, state and local system roads. He’s also a member of a 17-member citizen committee that reports to the county’s metropolitan transportation organization director.
“I hope he gets it,” Estero fire board chairman Dick Schweers said. “It will be good for him, and hopefully, good for our county.”
News-Press staff writer Christina Cepero contributed to this report.