By Wendy Kilmer
Photography by Beth Dukes
The past year has been marked by transition for Abilene’s mayor, Anthony Williams.
Ahead of and after being sworn in as mayor on June 26, 2017, he began shifting and culling his commitments, making room for perhaps his most significant one. He stepped down from several boards on which he served, transitioned to a new role in his full-time work at Abilene Christian University and had to take a hard look at his personal time and his family’s time.
“Lynette [Williams’ wife] and I had been in conversation about what that would look like for two years before I decided to run for mayor,” Williams said. “Without her support, I could not and would not be here.”
He is and was no stranger to the weight and role of city government, having served on the city council for 16 years prior to throwing his hat in the ring for mayor.
“Still, it’s different being in the actual seat,” Williams said. “When things go well, I get too much of the credit, and when things don’t go well, I get too much of the blame. We’ve had to address many significant issues this year.”
Addressing significant issues is also familiar to him. Williams has worked at ACU in various roles for 22 years, currently as advancement and executive community services officer, and he owns a printing and mailing business, Southwest Direct. Adding mayoral responsibilities to that already full schedule was a daunting task.
“I’m fortunate that ACU provides me with flexibility to handle my work as mayor, but I still have responsibilities here [at ACU],” Anthony said. “I try to do it all well, but it’s a considerable balancing act. I need to be available and accessible as mayor and still be mindful of my family and my job that provides the means to care for my family.”
Those needs necessitate a rigorous schedule and an attention to priorities and commitments. Here’s what that looks like in practice on most days for Mayor Anthony Williams.
While much of Abilene sleeps, the mayor is rising and preparing for his day.
“I’m highly disciplined person, which means doing things that need to be done even if it’s not what you want to do,” Williams said. “I’m also really a planner. I try to be mindful of the things that have to be done.”
Williams typically arrives at his ACU office by 6 a.m. to get an early start on emails and planning for his day. Because others in the city and at ACU have access to add events to his calendar, he starts by seeing what his schedule holds for the day.
“My calendar has multiple items on it all seven days of the week every week,” Williams said. “Usually there are 4-5 major events per week. Of course, sometimes they are clustered. I had five in the same day last Friday.”
Around mid-morning, Williams has a brief, daily phone call with Robert Hanna, Abilene’s city manager.
“We go over what’s on the agenda for city council meetings,” Hanna said. “We talk about things from the perspective of city administration, decisions that have been made that constituents may bring up at a city council meeting. I fill him in on things that need to be on his radar. He tells me about what he’s heard from the citizens he’s talked to. It’s good camaraderie and good discussion.”
Williams is typically still at work in his office at ACU and doesn’t regularly take a traditional lunch break. “I try not to book events during lunch,” Williams said. “I use that time to work at ACU, and occasionally I play 42 with the maintenance group here.”
Most afternoons Williams continues his work at ACU.
Although city council meetings and essential city events take up some evenings, Williams said he reserves as many evenings as possible to be with his family.
His wife, Lynette, is a teacher at Rainbow Bible School. Their youngest, John, is 17 and a junior at Abilene High School, and their nephew, Ahjae, a senior at Abilene High, lives with them as well. Their two older children – Anthony Jr., 29, and Alissa, 24, also live in Abilene.
“Lynette, unlike me, is an introvert, so our best time spent together is at home, watching movies or going for a walk,” Williams said.
Not surprisingly, to prepare for busy days and early mornings, the mayor’s lights are out early. “I prefer to be in my PJs by 8:30 p.m.,” he said.
Mondays and Tuesdays are often travel days for Williams’ development work at ACU. He spends Fridays at his city hall office, offering availability for meetings and city business.
Weekend or not, Williams rises early and heads to his ACU office Saturday mornings and usually for a few hours on Sunday afternoons as well. Still, he uses some of his weekend time for family and religious commitments. Williams serves as an elder at Minda Street Church of Christ. Saturday afternoons are often spent with his son.
“Even though he is a much better athlete than I am, we still shoot hoops together most Saturday afternoons,” Williams said.
Focus on the Future
“Abilene has had 37 mayors since its incorporation in 1883,” Williams said. “I’m the 38th mayor, and I look a little different than the first 37. Not a lot was discussed about race in the campaign, and I would even say it didn’t play a significant part in the election. That allowed us to focus on other issues, which says a lot about Abilene. Our country could take a lesson from Abilene. However, as mayor, I realize that I have an ability to say and do things not everyone can. I want opportunities for our community to be galvanized and work toward a common theme – in fact, not just in verbiage.“
To that end, after a year on the job, Williams plans to intentionally reflect and assess. The summer season lends itself to planning and vision in both city work and his ACU role.
“One thing I always try to practice is self-evaluation,” he said. ”I plan to spend time this summer looking at my own performance and seeing what I can do better. In the summer, my job at the university focuses more on planning and reflecting, with more office time and less visits. For the city, July is budget time, so we’ll spend a lot of time planning and strategizing.”
In Abilene’s city government, that strategizing and decision-making is the job of the elected council and mayor. The city manager handles day-to-day business while the council members set policy, vision and long-term strategic plans.
Hanna said he feels confident in the way he and Williams and the council work together and confident about Abilene’s future under the leadership of Williams.
“In my experience, the best mayors are the mayors who aren’t in it for the ego; they’re in it for the public service aspect. They want to make the city they live in a better place,” Hanna said. “Anthony fits that bill to a T. His motivator is not ‘What’s in it for me?’ but ‘What will make Abilene a great place to live?’