Chuck Williams: Walking a fine line

chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.comMarch 3, 2014 

For the last 10 years, my wife and I have walked the finest of lines in our professional lives.

This is a week both of us have awaited for some time. First, let me state for the record what many of you already know — my wife is Cathy Williams, the at-large member of the Muscogee County School Board.

And, let me state for the record as her husband and best friend, I could not be prouder of her service.

But when this week is over, she will be a lame duck on the board, because after two terms she has decided it is time to leave. I applaud the decision, and I look forward to seeing more of her on Monday nights.

Others will qualify to seek the seat she has held. I wish all of those who are running for it the best. As an investigative reporter, I have always known elected officials have a difficult job.

As a husband, I can tell you the job is far more difficult than most of us realize. These people who run for office open themselves — and in many cases their families — to public scrutiny.

The irony in that last statement is not lost on me as someone who is often in the role of Scrutinizer in Chief. And I am certain it won’t be lost on many of those I have written about over the years.

There are more than 6,000 employees and 32,000 students in the Muscogee County School District. You figure out the list of potential problems that can arise.

We have a home answering machine — and only two types of messages are generally left there. First, the annoying sales pitches for home security systems and the like. But most of the time it is an educator, parent and sometimes a grandparent calling to ask for Cathy’s help in a matter.

I never check the answering machine at home. The calls are not for me.

That’s just one of the ways we have tried to build a wall between her job as an elected official and mine as an editor and reporter. I am sure at times we have gotten close to the line.

That’s life.

When we married 10 years ago, Cathy had already sought the at-large seat, unsuccessfully, and was considering another run in 2006.

I had a long talk with then-Executive Editor Mike Burbach, a journalist I respect greatly. He was blunt in his assessment of what potential problems could arise between my personal and professional life.

I listened. One of his suggestions was to make sure I was as well sourced as I could possibly be. His message was clear — you don’t want people in the community looking at you thinking the only source you have is your wife.

I took that to heart. It has made me a better journalist. And what Mike did was define a line that others in my office, in Cathy’s political life and in the community at-large would attempt to define for us.

By the end of the year, Cathy will be off the school board and focusing on her job as President of NeighborWorks Columbus.

I am pleased she has had the opportunity to serve. I know why she did it, and I am glad she was able to term-limit herself and give someone else an opportunity to serve.

I am not the only one who has watched Cathy’s commitment to public education in Columbus with great interest. My daughters — who have also become her daughters — were at Clubview Elementary and Richards Middle School when Cathy and I married.

Carmen, the eldest, is in the Teach for America program, working in an underserved school in Detroit. Joy Beth, the youngest, has just changed her major at Columbus State and is now looking for a career in early childhood education.

Both of our girls are probably going to be teachers. They share her passion for education. And they have spent a decade watching her commitment to it.

You may not agree with everything Cathy has done as a school board member — I don’t agree with everything she has done and I’m married to her — but at least she was willing to serve.

I applaud all of the others who share that willingness.

Chuck Williams, senior editor for content, chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.com.

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