A whirlwind of a year

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Juanice Gray | Editor

Mayor candid about his first year in office

There is applause as Ronnie Williams Jr. is sworn in as Mayor of Natchitoches.

He takes a seat at his desk and before he has the opportunity to even lean back, his first phone call pertains to the impending doom of Hurricane Laura. The City is decimated and a man only two days into his term has no time to strategize, he just jumps into action.

How does a man in his mid 30s with no political background or experience running a governmental body find his way?  Williams says faith, his wife and his ability to draw on his experiences as a teacher and preacher to humanize any situation has gotten him through his first year.

“As an educator there are certain attributes that you need that are beneficial as a position as mayor. Also as a pastor, we are, and should be, caring and compassionate and willing to listen to people. Those positions helped me to prepare and continue my servant’s heart. It’s about what I can do in this position to make this city a better place,” he said. With numerous weather events and the general responsibilities of the job, he said there have been some long and sleepless nights. He cited the cliché about loving what you do never being work and said this year he’s loved what he’s done.

Ronnie and Tiffany Williams wait for results election night

Technology

His youth has allowed him to bring his energy to the office while implementing things like social media and technology to meet the needs of the people.

He brought TV screens and PowerPoint presentations to council meetings, initiated streaming council meetings on the City’s YouTube channel, encouraged FaceBook posts for transparency, implemented a monthly newsletter and more to better reach the public. He said transparency is key and he utilizes every outlet possible from the newspaper to internet to achieve that. “The City, under Mayor Posey, went through a rebranding and the website was updated, so that was great,” he said. “We brought in ReGroup, an app that allows messages to go straight from the City to people’s phones. We encourage people to download it.” In addition, the City is preparing to launch a Podcast soon.

This article published in the Oct. 2, 2021, print edition

Unprecedented Disasters

“Times like we’ve experienced, record storms and what they did to our city….it’s been a combination of things. When there is a need, there is a certain enthusiasm here for how can we solve this problem. There is something in me that makes me want to be part of the team to fix it,” He said his faith kept him grounded and allowed him to get through the figurative and literal storms of the past year.

Mayor Ronnie Williams Jr.

Economic Development

Williams said there are businesses that have approached the City expressing their intent to establish here. “A lot of our work on economic development has come through NEDA (Natchitoches Economic Development Alliance). We are trying to position ourselves to be more marketable for a mid-size factory to come.”  We are being aggressive and are looking at an economic development plan. “We have a 1996 plan that is 25 years old. Periodic updates were not done. As the city has changed, population and new businesses, there is a need to update.  That plan was all about infrastructure. We need to modernize our ordinances into 21st century context. Look at our housing and other meaningful things we can do about blight in the city. The city and parish are going to partner on that.”

Blight

“It’s a challenge because you’re dealing with personal property and government has its limit about what it can do,” he said. In years past, inmate labor was used and the Department of Public Works (DPW) had about 25 employees. Due to Covid, the Dept. of Corrections won’t allow inmates to assist and the DPW has decreased to about 15 people. “It all comes down to money,” Williams said. He said the public needs to help by not littering and maintaining their private property. He said he broached the subject of youth group community service projects with Supt. Grant Eloi to assist with the litter problem. He said the Adopt a Street program is still active and there is a link on the City’s website to sign up.

A huge blight to the downtown area remains the Summertree/Hopeville Apartments on Second Street. The previous council condemned the property, however the new council and Williams reversed the condemnation in February. “They are in the final stages before actual hardhats on scene,” he said. “The plans have come in. They have just about every box checked prior to rehabilitation beginning.”

Director of Planning and Zoning Shontrell Roque confirmed, “We have just completed the application process for the permit. We are now waiting for a payment to issue the permit. Once we have received payment, then work can begin. We (P/Z) would then wait to be called upon for inspections. We do not have a timeline as of yet for completion.”

Ronnie Williams Jr. signs oath paperwork to become Mayor of Natchitoches Aug. 25, 2020.

Accomplishments

Addressing crime is something I wanted to get done and I wanted to put some things in place to let the community know we’re serious about crime and we’re serious about safety, so we were able to get CrimeStoppers,” Williams said. “We’re still going to implement things to address crime and litter.” He also mentioned the return of the Boys & Girls Club and how community partners came together to get that youth development program reinstated. He said having a master plan and focusing on grant writing is paramount. He was in Washington, DC, Sept. 27-29 to lobby for the RAISE grant. “We put together an amazing RAISE grant application to bring in some dollars for infrastructure. The bike and pedestrian plan adopted the year before I came in is one. We have certain areas of the community that don’t have access to transportation so they have to walk. Also the infrastructure on Texas Street, the Roundabout, is another, which is mostly funded through capital outlay.” He said they should launch the façade grant application this week for those businesses along Texas Street to help spur growth. He said the city is also is looking into an emergency plan.

Williams said the one thing he wants the public to know he tried to do in his first year is to unify the area, citizens, agencies and governmental entities. “It’s a shared vision. Acknowledge the fact we’re all in this together. I believe the more unified we are, the brighter the future is, the more we can accomplish together.”