So, fare thee well ... We’ll meet another time, another day.
— Judy Collins
Driving west on Philema Road Friday, the 15 — yes, I counted — stark blue signs with white letters demand my attention.
Once part of an endless sea of political signs that trumpeted the pending July 31 primaries, the blue signs stand pretty much alone now, solitary reminders of a political dream not realized.
These signs bear the name of Bill Williams, whose hopes of a second term on the Lee County Commission were dashed by retired Marine and political newcomer Greg Frich. Through Tuesday, red, white and blue signs bearing Frich’s name far outnumbered Williams’s, a testament to the well-organized — and well-financed — campaign run by Frich.
Williams based his re-election hopes on a record in office that included work on the county’s yearly $20 million-plus budgets. By no stretch of the imagination a politician, Williams — a certified public accountant — won what would be his lone term in office in 2008 by famously finding a $1.6 million error in the county’s proposed budget before he was even on the board.
In office, Williams held firm during sometimes terse budget negotiations, giving little ground to department heads who argued for more funding. As a result, his three years of balanced budgets resulted in no employee furloughs, no layoffs and no job losses, a claim no other government entity in Southwest Georgia can make.
As much as anything else, Williams’ reserved persona did him in on Tuesday. A quiet, introspective man whose personality fits the CPA stereotype, Williams was no match for the charismatic Frich when it came to one-on-ones with the electorate. And while some remarked that “Frich is the commissioner I’d want only if we were going to war,” no one can deny the combat veteran’s compassion and dedication to his country and his genuine love for the people of the Redbone District.
Williams was also a victim of bad timing Tuesday. Lee County is currently a hotbed for anti-tax, anti-government sentiment, and many in the community were angered by a (mostly false) campaign decrying the commission’s decision to add garbage collection fees to ad valorem tax bills. Detractors tried to sell the garbage fee ordinance as a “new tax,” a fabrication that stirred up the community.
And even when the commission rescinded the ordinance, the damage had been done. In many citizens’ eyes, commissioners had betrayed their trust.
If there were undecided voters as election day neared, many had their minds made up for them when tax assessment notices started arriving a few days before the primaries. State law requires the notices be mailed no later than July 1, but somehow many Lee Countians received them more than three weeks after that date. Some reportedly were mailed from outside the state.
A number of Lee citizens who received the late assessment notices admitted to being told by certain officials in the county that they were notice of a new tax being waged by the commission, a patently false statement. If the county’s tax digest increases, as it most likely will with a freeze on assessment values being lifted this year, the county government has a duty to lower the millage rate to account for the digest increase.
All of these factors helped to doom Williams, who by most accounts is one of the most effective government officials in the region. For his part, he took the loss to Frich in stride, saying he’ll simply concentrate on his accounting business when his commission term ends Dec. 31.
One of the best things about the recent election for me personally was having the opportunity to meet and get to know men like Frich, Ray Timms, David Cheshire, Luke Singletary and Frank Taylor. In addition to being men Lee County can be proud of, they proved their primary purpose for seeking office was to make the county better.
I can’t help but feel a little sad, though, for the stunning dismissal of Bill Williams. Sure, he was out-spent and out-campaigned and beaten by a worthy opponent. But he didn’t deserve to have his dedication as a public servant questioned by an element of the population whose own agenda was being served.
Williams may not have been the best politician in the world. But no one can question his motives while in office. And there’s one certainty no one can ever deny: You won’t find a finer man holding public office.
Email Carlton Fletcher at