Leading up to the June 21 special election, Patch is profiling each of the candidates for the 113th District State House seat, which represents Oconee and part of Clarke County. was profiled Tuesday and on Wednesday. will be next.
Just a couple of months ago, Chuck Williams reached a crossroads in his life.
He had stepped away from the banking industry, and wasn’t sure what he’d do next. So Williams spent time on his several hundred-acre tree farm in southern Oconee County, and watched the sunrise.
“I retreated to the farm and worked,” Williams said. “It was just sort of watching the sun come up every morning and thinking, “OK Williams, you’re 55, what do you want to do with the rest of your life?’”
After a few weeks of sunrises, Williams decided to run for the on June 21.
“I’m not a political animal, but I’ve always had an interest in the political system, and really not so much an interest in politics, but politics as it relates to how does government work, how does this system work,” he said. “How does the political process dovetail into us having, hopefully, effective and efficient government?”
The grind of a shortened campaign was a factor in his decision, but Williams’ wife Beth said it’s nothing new.
“We’re used to it,” she said. “We’ve both had careers. Our children are all four-legged: cats, dogs and horses.”
After he graduated from the University of Georgia with an agricultural-economics degree in the late 1970s, Williams worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in South Georgia in rural development lending. He then moved to banking in the mid-1980s when he was hired by C&S Bank in Atlanta, and later to a bank in Greensboro, Ga.
Williams then helped found North Georgia Bank in 2000, and he said he’s still proud of the charitable and community support and financing the bank provided to young families and businesses in Oconee County and Clarke County. But the bank was in February after operating under restrictions since 2009.
Williams said the bank had a significant residential construction portfolio, and when that market “melted down,” the bank couldn’t absorb those losses. It was the 55th bank in the state to be closed.
“The losses we suffered on the loan portfolios continued to erode our capital, and the capital is the foundation and safety net of the bank,” said Williams, also the immediate past chairman of the Georgia Bankers Association.
This issue has been a central question for Williams’ campaign, something he admits.
“I know a lot of people have expressed interest, and wondered, ‘How’s this guy going to run a political campaign when he was president of this bank that was closed by regulators?’” Williams said. “Losing the bank was not, obviously, anything we planned on. Our bank simply failed due to market conditions, pure and simple.”
Amrey Harden, the president and CEO of , called himself a “friendly competitor” of Williams as they sought the same customers. But their history stretches deeper than banking.
In 1976, when Williams was a senior at UGA, he won a seat on the in his hometown, and the same town where Harden was mayor. Harden said those were simpler days when residents’ water bills were about $3, and some of the bigger issues for the council were about barking dogs.
Harden said Williams has the perfect temperament for the House, and his background includes more than banking.
“Chuck’s had exposure to public service, and experience in the community,” Harden said. “The fact that he ran, and was elected, shows that he’s been exposed to that.”
Harden said he could relate to Williams’ position as a head of a bank in an economic downturn.
“I’m living it every day,” Harden said.
This unusual type of downturn hurt local banks, Harden said, because they weren’t bailed out.
“Usually when it goes into a recession, it starts rebounding,” Harden said. “Here we are in the fourth year, and it’s not rebounding. I don’t fault Chuck for the economy.”
While banking has been Williams’ chief profession, he’s also been involved with the state forestry industry. He’s served on the executive committee of the Georgia Forestry Association, and the board of the Georgia Agri-Business Council.
As a teenager, Williams was introduced to his life’s passions, agriculture and forestry, which he found as an FFA president at . After he graduated from UGA, he served as president of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Alumni Association. Last year, then-Governor Sonny Perdue appointed Williams to the board of the Georgia Forestry Commission.
Away from banking, Williams focused his reassessment period on his farm, which was named the state’s 2005 Tree Farm of the Year. Mostly timberland, Williams said, it’s also a wildlife habitat.
Williams said trees are similar to other crops, except they have a longer interval period. The Williams farm adheres to a multi-use concept, and he wants to use it as a renewable and sustainable resource.
“It’s getting out there, being in touch with the land, helping direct what Mother Nature is doing,” he said. “You can direct it, but if you try to turn it, it’s like trying to turn a battleship, it’s not easy.”
Williams has been a Rotarian since 1994, and Beth Williams said he lives by the motto, “Service above self.”
“He wants to serve his community and serve his people,” Beth said. “He has knowledge of different committees, and understands what their needs are.”