In his new role, Winter Garden Interim City Manager Jon Williams will draw from a long history of public service.
Jon Williams has served Winter Garden as assistant city manager of public services since 2018, but he will begin 2022 with a new job and an ongoing focus on some long-standing projects.
The list of services under Williams’ watch include: utilities, engineering, streets and storm water, garbage, and capital improvements. He has overseen the construction of a new water storage and pumping facility, the expansion of a wastewater reclamation facility, and several road improvements. But his latest challenge came when former city manager Mike Bollhoefer announced his resignation during the Oct. 14 City Commission meeting. A motion to promote Williams to interim city manager was made just a few minutes later by Winter Garden Mayor John Rees.
“Everything I have observed from him has been positive,” Rees said of the decision to promote Williams. “He works well with the public, has a finance background, he’s very knowledgable, and he’s had this kind of experience in the past.”
To hear Williams speak of his experience is a lesson in humility. His greatest blessings are his wife, Dorothy, who was his high school sweetheart, and their daughter, Emily, who currently is attending the University of Florida College of Nursing.
“I’m pretty much an open book,” he said. “Not a very exciting guy.”
But that’s really not the case.
“When we have development opportunities come before us, we go to great lengths to look at the city history and how any new development is going to fit into that history. It’s an important process, but it’s a process that’s already there so, from my perspective, it’s not very difficult.”
— Jon Williams
Williams moved in 1979 to Florida from Columbus, Ohio. He attended New Smyrna Beach High School and, like many recent graduates, decided he needed some time to find his path.
“I was a non-traditional student,” he said. “I graduated high school and wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do with my life. I went into the military, then went back to school to earn my degree.”
He spent seven years in the Army National Guard, from 1989-95, but his path to public service became clear during the summer of 1992.
“I was deployed with the National Guard to provide relief after Hurricane Andrew came through,” he said. “That was probably my turning point, my ‘aha moment,’ if you will,” he said.
Williams was 19 years old when he witnessed the destruction the Category 5 hurricane left in Miami-Dade County.
“I was relatively young,” he said. “Obviously, that was a devastating storm for South Florida. So, being deployed and experiencing that firsthand was a bit of a shock. But, you know, through that process, we provided assistance with food distribution, security, clothing distribution. … We really got a sense of accomplishment and left there knowing that we made a measurable difference in people’s lives. It was after that experience that I knew I wanted to work in public services in some form or fashion. It really solidified it for me.”
After his National Guard service, Williams attended the University of Central Florida, where he majored in businesses administration with a concentration in accounting, and earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 2004. He served the city of Edgewater as code enforcement officer from 1999 to 2000 and as finance director from 2002-06. He then took on the role of city manager for 18 months, from 2006-2007.
Additional experience in city government came from 2008-09 during his employment at Government Services Group, providing government contract services for a variety of government entities.
He went on to serve as finance director for the city of Longwood from 2009-11, then accepted the role of city manager from 2011-18.
His future in Winter Garden was decided during his time in Longwood, when he visited City Hall for a meeting with the man he would eventually replace: Bollhoefer.
“I knew that if an opportunity ever presented itself, I wanted to come over here and join team Winter Garden,” Williams said. “By that time the assistant city manager for public services position had opened, so I applied for it and that new role started for me in 2018.”
The team environment and level of efficiency Williams saw during that first visit were contributing factors in his desire to join, but one Winter Garden attribute sealed the deal.
“Our family-friendly environment,” he said. “I want to make sure we preserve that, it makes a huge difference for me.”
A NOD TO THE PAST
Williams enjoys being outdoors in his spare time — boating, fishing, grilling and taking advantage of the Florida weather help him to unwind. He’s also had a respect for history since childhood and enjoys reading about significant events in American history. It’s this interest that helps him in his job.
Winter Garden’s 118-year history is visible on every corner and in every building. Its charm and character rely on maintaining and respecting that history. And it’s Williams’ responsibility — and pleasure — to do just that.
“When we have development opportunities come before us, we go to great lengths to look at the city history and how any new development is going to fit into that history,” he said. “It’s an important process, but it’s a process that’s already there so, from my perspective, it’s not very difficult.”
His new role involves overseeing many items that have been on his plate since he began his previous role. But when assessing the priorities of the next six months, one project seems to stand out.
“Right after I first was hired as the assistant city manager, we had to select the engineering design firm for the Dillard Street redesign,” he said. “And so, taking that project through the design and now getting ready to bid it out and get it built — it’s one project that I was intimately involved with from the beginning.”
Dillard Street serves as the gateway to downtown Winter Garden. A study conducted in 2017 determined its average annual daily traffic to be 23,730 vehicles, and it shows. The resulting road wear, along with outdated infrastructure and lack of pedestrian-friendly features, create a stark contrast from the updated, well-maintained features of Plant Street.
Redesign plans include: a center median which can be used when making a left-hand turn; new landscaping and a dedicated bicycle lane; and speed decreases from 35 mph to 25 mph in some areas.
“What really makes it unique is, we’re going to have three roundabouts,” Williams said. “One at Plant Street, one at Smith Street, and one at Story Road. And we’re doing an overhead-to-underground conversion for the electrical services. Everything with the exception of the new, high-energy transmission lines and one that crosses over to the substation for Duke Energy.”
According to Williams, project design is complete and the city is in the process of acquiring the necessary right of way.
“The more right of way we acquire, the closer that puts us to getting the construction documents out for bid and selecting the contractor to perform the work; we’re targeting first quarter for the bidding,” he said.
Another major project on the city’s 2022 agenda, Tucker Ranch, remains in the design stage and may not get to the construction stage until second quarter or later. The big issue for Dillard Street and Tucker Ranch is the same all construction projects have been facing for the past 12 months.
“We’re all in this unique environment where supply-chain issues are impacting the timing of projects, delaying the start dates,” Williams said. “It would be our desire to start in the second quarter, but the availability of materials could be one reason that it’s not started until, say, the third quarter.”
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Williams’ dedication to the task at hand prevents him from looking too far into the future. For him, his new role is about staying the course the community has come to expect.
“The immediate goal is just to make the transition as seamless as possible,” he said. “We’re going to evaluate some of our processes over time and see if there are some changes that may be necessary. We certainly will continue to build on the momentum that has made Winter Garden great; we’re certainly going to continue to preserve the charm and the family-friendly environment. I haven’t really looked too far down the road yet, but certainly we’ll be doing what’s best for the city.”
Williams’ record stands for itself and he wants to build on it — but not for himself. His motivation in his new role is the same as it was as a finance director, and as a government contractor, and as a 19-year-old soldier in the aftermath of a Category 5 hurricane.
“Allow the passion to make a difference in people’s lives to serve as the motivation for public service,” he said.
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