Deputy City Manager Sue Williams, the highest-ranking woman staffer at San Diego City Hall, announced Monday that she will resign Sept. 6.
The 42-year-old Williams, who calls herself “a risk-taker,” said she had not found another job. Rather, after 21 years in city government--working her way up from a personnel trainee to her $64,000-a-year post--Williams said she is now “looking for new challenges and something that will keep me from hitting the burnout level.”
Although she will be seeking an executive position in government or private industry, Williams promised that she would not begin an active job search until after she leaves the city job.
“In the position I’m in, it’s very difficult to go out and actively seek employment,” she said. “You’re not really sure people are interested in you for your skills--or because of the position I’m in. And there’s no way I would abuse this position.”
It was a question of ethics, however, that made Williams the subject of intense scrutiny a little over a year ago.
In February, 1984, Fire Chief Earle Roberts suddenly resigned, claiming that Williams and City Manager Ray Blair were having an affair that had led to poor decisions by the manager’s office.
Quizzed by the City Council in a series of closed-door sessions, Blair would neither confirm nor deny that he and Williams had pursued more than a professional relationship. And Williams, in comments then to reporters, refused to discuss the allegations because “I choose not to give credence to it by confirming or denying it.”
After a week’s debate, the council gave Blair a “vote of confidence.” Mayor Roger Hedgecock stressed at the time that the council had not received “any evidence at all that any relationship, whether real or imagined, between Sue Williams and Ray Blair has anything to do in impacting the professionalism, quality or objectivity of Ray Blair’s decisions.”
Blair added that reports of Williams exercising undue influence over his decisions were “baloney.”
Williams said Monday that the inquiry did not lead to her resignation.
She had planned to quit months before the charges surfaced, Williams said. When they did surface, “all it did was keep me here longer because of the appearance” that might have been created if she had resigned immediately.
Williams is known at City Hall as a tough-minded analyst who knows diverse areas of city government, from parks management to city purchasing, in minute detail.
A native San Diegan, she earned a degree from San Diego State University in 1964--in three fields, economics, political science, and business and administration. She was hired by the city after college as a trainee in personnel and rose to personnel director in 1974. In 1978 she became the first woman deputy city manager in San Diego history.
Her critics complain that she is too tough. “She can be iron-handed on some things,” one city staff member said.
Still other city staffers, from colleagues in the manager’s office to the mayor’s chief of staff, Michael McDade, credit her with starting the city’s open space program under which parkland is acquired, reorganizing the Park and Recreation Department, and creating a joint city-county fire insurance program that saves those agencies $100,000 a year.
“I’m sorry she’s leaving. She’s a very valuable member of the team,” Blair said. Asked where Williams could have gone if she had stayed on at City Hall, Blair said, “There’s my job--but it ain’t vacant.”
Although Williams officially resigns Sept. 6, she will be using accrued vacation time to leave June 27, after the budget hearings for this fiscal year.
Once she leaves, Williams said, she plans to play tennis with her 14-year-old daughter, perhaps do some short-term consulting or teaching, and then buckle down to the task of finding a new job--as a chief or assistant chief executive officer in San Diego, she said.
She vowed she will stay in San Diego, but added quickly in her usual pithy style, “But I said I would never say never. Those are the words you eat. . . . It would have to be something I’m not aware of now.”
Williams said the prospect of leaving City Hall is a little frightening but mostly exciting. When she broke the news to the city manager’s staff Monday morning, a close friend handed her a note that, Williams said, summed up how she felt. It read: “No guts, no glory!”