Originally created 02/05/06

When right or wrong, Williams stands firm



If you don't know who Marion Williams is, it's not his fault.

In the decade since the Augusta Commission formed, no one has been as outspoken and ready to point the finger at wrongdoing - real or perceived - as Mr. Williams, the commission's mayor pro tem.

At every meeting, the representative of District 2 seizes the microphone to weigh in on almost every issue. He seldom, if ever, concedes a point, arguing on doggedly even though he might be a minority of one on a particular issue.

He publicly criticized former City Administrator Randy Oliver, a very capable administrator who held degrees in accounting and engineering and who is now city manager in Peoria, Ill.

But that was nothing compared with the tongue-lashing he administered to former Administrator George Kolb until Mr. Kolb escaped to Wichita, Kan.

A frequent critic of the city's recreation department and its director Tom Beck, Mr. Williams encouraged a man who claimed he was cheated out of some money by a manager at the Aquatics Center to come forward with the accusations.

It turned out, after a sheriff's department investigation, that the man had forged a receipt, and he ended up leaving town just ahead of the law.

Mr. Williams acknowledges he's missed the mark a few times, but not often, he says.

In 2004, he kept talking from the dais about major theft involving the company that contracted to operate the facilities for maintenance and repair of the city's vehicles and machinery.

It turned out he was right.

In September of that year, four people were indicted and accused of stealing more than $300,000 from the city in a conspiracy involving a supervisor for First Vehicle services and the owner and employees of P&H Auto Supply.

Although many people accuse him of playing the race card at every turn, Mr. Williams says he's not about black and white, but about right and wrong.

"If it's right, it's right. If it's wrong, it's wrong," is one of his most frequent sayings.

His more recent controversies have involved abstentions on commission votes that have kept fired Engineering Director Teresa Smith on the payroll since Dec. 19 and himself as holdover mayor pro tem this year.

At their first meeting this year, commissioners voted along racial lines on nominations for Mr. Williams and Commissioner Andy Cheek, but neither was elected because Mr. Williams abstained, making the votes 5-4-1 and thereby keeping Mayor Deke Copenhaver from casting a tie-breaking sixth vote that is required for any commission action to pass or fail.

A second round of votes on the same issue at the Jan. 17 meeting achieved the same results, prompting Woody Merry, the founder of CSRA Help, to file petitions in Richmond County Superior Court. He has asked a judge to oust Mr. Williams from the post, Mr. Merry says, because he has claimed "squatters rights," and to force him to vote yes or no on a mayor pro tem nomination.

Judge Carlisle Overstreet has scheduled a Feb. 16 hearing on the petitions.

Mr. Williams says some people don't like the things he says and does, but a lot of people do.

Apparently he is correct.

Augusta's black ministers have held two public rallies in support of him this year.

And a woman doing business in the city clerk's office last week predicted Mr. Williams will be mayor of Augusta one day.

"He's a leader," she said, refusing to give her name before she left the office.

But to some of his colleagues on the commission, he is a source of frustration and dismay.

Mr. Cheek says that Mr. Williams has alienated so many, he has lost the ability as mayor pro tem to lead them toward compromise and consensus.

But Mr. Williams can rightly say, "I'm the same in the backroom as I am out front. I'm consistent."

He says some people think he's mean because when he's handling business, he's all business.

"When business is over with, I can have as much fun as anybody in the world," he said.

Man with a calling

Mr. Williams was born in 1948, the only child of Georgia Mae Williams, now deceased. His father played no role in his life, he said.

"My mother taught me everything I ever knew," he said. "She taught me respect for myself and other people. She taught me to iron, sew, cook and clean."

His aunt named him "Marion," a name he has never really liked. If he had been able to choose a name, he said it would have been David.

His mother was a domestic worker who spent her days cleaning other people's houses, he said.

For the first few years of his life, they lived in Harrisburg and then moved to the Turpin Hill area.

He said his mother set the rules in her house, and he dared not disobey.

If he came home and told her someone had picked on him, she sent him back out to settle the score.

On the other hand, if he started a fight, she would punish him, he said.

His first job was delivering for a Chinese grocery store, and he had to give his mother half his earnings, which he questioned then but now appreciates.

Being an only child forced him to act on his own and become independent, he said.

After leaving home around the age of 20, he married and later divorced.

He has three grown daughters.

"I was married a long time, and I've been by myself a long time," he said.

In 1992, Mr. Williams was charged with simple battery and criminal trespass after going to the residence of his former wife, Lillie H. Williams, where, according to State Court records, he choked and struck her.

Mr. Williams contends the charges were distortions of the facts.

In 1968, Mr. Williams became a Richmond County firefighter, the only black man in the department.

He said he was the brunt of criticism and pranks but gave as good as he got.

"I didn't get mad," he said. "If that's the game, I played by the rules.

"I remember the guys kidding me and took the hose pipe and wet me. You can't get offended. I just wet everybody else up."

After nine years, he left the fire department and went to work with the Georgia Railroad until it was taken over by CSX Systems, and then he worked for CSX, leaving after 27 years because he was tired of working odd hours.

"Even a mule doesn't work at night," he said. "Even a mule goes to the barn at night."

Besides, by that time he had gotten the calling to start a ministry.

He is now the pastor of Friendship Baptist Church and is in the process of renovating an old warehouse to replace the church on Laney-Walker Boulevard. It has been bought by the Richmond County Board of Education.

In 1999, he also got the calling to run for the Augusta Commission and challenged incumbent Commissioner Freddie Handy, whom he defeated in a runoff by 131 votes - 667 to 536. Only 13.7 percent of the District 2's 8,872 registered voters participated in the election. He was re-elected in 2003, taking 47 percent of the votes in a three-man race.

Mr. Williams does not smoke, drink or take drugs but does love to dance and race cars, he said.

He owns several racing cars and races regularly at the drag racing track in Jackson.

For the past year, he has been promoting a drag-racing track on the 1,700-acre city-owned Kimberly Clark property off Mike Padgett Highway in south Augusta. He has also been promoting his son-in-law, Mark Pugh, to get some of the concessionaire business if and when that track in built, according to Leo Charette, who has pledged $1 million toward the project.

Last spring, Mr. Pugh registered Drag Snacks LLC with the secretary of state.

And that is one topic Mr. Williams will not discuss.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylvia.cooper@augustachronicle.com.

IN HIS WORDS

"I didn't appreciate all the tough love my mother gave me, but it paid off."

"I came up poor, but I came up respected and being respectful. People think poor is bad. Poor ain't so bad. A lot of people have got money, but they're not happy. They're not contented. They can't sleep good at night. I sleep good every night."

"I love animals. I've been an animal lover all my life."

"I love cars. I never took mechanics. I just tinker with it and learned a lot. I can do more with a motor than a monkey can with a peanut."

"I just never drank. All my buddies who race cars, they may drink beer. I can't drink it. I don't like it. I have buddies that say, 'Don't let Marion get the chaser because he will drink it all up. You won't have no Coca-Cola.'"

"I just see a need to change, a need to expose some things in Augusta. We're not divided as people think we're divided as a community. We've got different issues. People talk about if we were Democrats or Republicans as commissioners that would make it better. No, because the black Democrats and the white Democrats have different issues. They still live in different areas. Streets on certain sides of town still ain't been paved."

"Criticism don't bother me. I'm used to being by myself. I'm an only child."