Local News

William's reflects on first year as LP town administrator

LAKE PLACID - Remnants of pink silly string on his chair Friday at town hall only meant one thing -- Town Administrator Phil Williams was recently celebrating something, which happened to be his 61st birthday.

The day also marked the first anniversary of Williams becoming Lake Placid's first town manager.

After 38 years in law enforcement, including 12 as the Caladium Capital's police chief, Williams moved about a half mile from the police station to town hall to assume a new set of responsibilities with no predecessor to rely on for guidance.

"I have learned it is a very politically challenging job in some circles," he said, reflecting on the last year.

Becoming familiar with land-use planning and land development regulations has been the toughest part of the job, Williams said.

"We have a good interface with the county planning department, but it probably would have been helpful to know more about that," he said. "It was things like that, that I never really paid that much attention to over in law enforcement."

Williams likens the active city projects to "sand piles" that require attention.

He showed a project list on his computer. "You see all these projects ... are all sand piles. There are probably about 30 of them there and you've got 30 different things going and 30 different directions at any one given time."

Learning how to track all the projects and give each one the necessary time requires organizational skills, he said.

"It's almost like jumping on a moving train and just trying to hang on in some sense," he said. "I am just now starting to get to the point where I have enough sense of where the train it going."

Having a town manager has been new for the town council, the mayor and town attorney, he noted.

"One thing I have learned, you can't be afraid of what you don't know," he said. "You have got to get in there and learn stuff and get in and dig and research and seek the right people and the right resources to find what you need to know and put what council wants in place."

He is working on several things that he hopes will result in improvements at town hall.

The FEMA grant and the town hall storm-proofing was already "on a roll" before he took office as town administrator, Williams noted.

He did have the opportunity to hire a "good quality" town clerk, Eva Cooper-Hapeman, which turned out "real well," he said.

A top priority is finding a replacement for retiring Utility Director Gary Freeman, Williams said.

With about 10 applicants for the position, Williams said his police background comes in handy when doing background checks.

He also is keeping track of utility customers who are outside the city limits and requiring new utility customers to sign annexation agreements.

Compared to when he worked in law enforcement, is Williams as town manager receiving more or fewer after-hours and weekend phone calls?

He doesn't receive as many calls on the weekend, but when he goes out, it is common for two or three people to come up and talk about a problem, Williams said.

"I don't mind that; that's just part of the job," he said.

Though appearing cheerful and easygoing, Williams said he occasionally experiences times when he wished he was still the police chief with fewer challenges.

"There have been days I felt like resigning," he said with a chuckle. "I won't lie to you, and there have been some days that I like it; it's just like any job.

"I think overall it is working out," he said. "I don't plan on going anywhere. "

The mayor and council members say they are pleased with Williams' performance.

Mayor John Holbrook said: "It's been a Godsend. He has done an absolutely fabulous job. I just don't think we could have picked a better person. I am real proud of everybody and the job they are doing."

Councilman Ray Royce said he has been "extremely pleased with the job Phil has done as the administrator.

"I have also been very pleased with how the administrator position has helped better organized our town staff and has provided clarity to some of our functions," he said. "I think it has been a tremendously well received both as the administrator position and in particular having Mr. Williams in that position. It's everything that I had hoped for and more.

Councilwoman Debra Worley described Williams as an "asset."

"I am very pleased" she said. "I think we have a great team down at town hall now."

Cooper-Hapeman is working out very well in the town clerk position, Worley said.

"A lot of what I do is for the businesses and grants and things like that and she comes from that background so it has been a pleasure," Worley said. "She understands when I talk to her about different things.

"I think that everything is working out really quite well."