Williams submits resignation
by Danny Wade
One of Humboldt’s emerging leaders is leaving his hometown. Lee Williams is leaving his post as executive director of the Humboldt Chamber of Commerce.
Williams has accepted a job in Fort Worth, Tex. with the engineering firm, Halff Associates. Prior to coming to the chamber, he held a similar position as a civil engineer with Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT).
Williams was raised in Humboldt and is a 1999 HHS graduate. He attended the University of Memphis where he earned a BS Degree in Civil Engineering. He continued his education, receiving a Master’s in Science from UT Knoxville and an MBA from UT Martin, while working in Jackson, Tenn. at TDOT.
He and his wife, Jessica, have two girls, Virginia is six years old and Ella is seven.
“Our plan was to move to a city after college,” Williams said. “But the TDOT job came along so we moved to Jackson.”
Then the chamber director position became available, so he applied and was hired. The plans of big city life took another detour.
“I hate to leave a commitment—it’s the hardest thing to decide,” Williams said. “I didn’t take it lightly. I wanted to finish that commitment. It was a hardest decision.”
Part of that commitment is to the school system where Williams is a member of the school board. He was first elected in 2011 and again in 2015. He still has over two and a half years left on his term.
“I wanted to see the completion of the school’s building project we started,” Williams explained. “I want to work with Dr. Hamlett with her new contract. There are lots of things I wanted to see through.”
Williams said it’s equally hard leaving the chamber, especially now with the Strawberry Festival just around the corner and chamber events coordinator Anna Surratt soon taking maternity leave with twins.
“Beth (Culpepper) has really stepped up and is doing a great job,” Williams said of the recently hired chamber assistant.
Lee and Jessica began looking at a map and eliminating locations for the potential home of the next chapter in their family’s life. They scratched the northern states due to cold weather. They narrowed their choice down to three states and Texas was one of them.
“I was looking at jobs in the area and this one stood out,” Williams said of the civil engineer position with Halff. “It fit my background so I applied and was accepted. I will be doing Texas Department of Transportation work and with my background with TDOT, it was a fit. I’ll also be working with municipalities. Having a background with the chamber helped as well.”
But the driving factor to move now was their two girls. Williams said in three years, Ella will be moving up to middle school. He said moving to middle school is one of the most drastic changes for many students. The Williams did not want to wait two or three years to move, then have Ella move into a new school, only to change schools again to a middle school.
“We’re obviously going to miss our families. They both live here,” Williams added. “We’ll miss small-town living where you know everyone and always willing to help each other out.”
So what’s next for the chamber and the vacated school board seat?
Chamber president, Georgann McFarland said the chamber is putting together a search committee that will include herself, vice president Dustin Twyman, past president Shane Lynch, Mayor Marvin Sikes, Humboldt Utilities GM Alex Smith, and representatives from the industry, small business and a member at large.
“I’m sad he’s leaving,” McFarland said. “We’re losing a valuable person to our schools and our chamber. Those are hard shoes to fill.”
The search committee will meet March 14 to map out plans to hire a new director and to fill in for Surratt while on leave.
“We’ve posted applications on the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce website and on Indeed.com,” McFarland said. “We hope to have a chamber director by June 1.”
“Beth had agreed to work full-time, Monday through Friday,” McFarland added. “She will help with the festival and other chamber needs.”
Mayor Sikes has asked city attorney, Terri Crider, to research the procedure to replace Williams on the school board.
“I want the best member for our school board,” Mayor Sikes said, “someone with the children in our school system at heart.”
Sikes said he has talked with Alderman Bob Pruitt, who represents the same district as Williams, about suggesting a candidate to fill the empty seat on the school board.
Sikes wasn’t sure if the replacement would fulfill the remainder of the term or if a new board member would be selected during the November election. There are several factors Crider should find out during her research.
Once a candidate is selected to fill the vacancy, the city board must ratify the mayor’s nomination.
“The timing was right,” Williams said of making the decision to move. “I’ll miss Humboldt and being involved. But it will also be nice to come home after work and not have so many irons in the fire.”