After 18 years on the job, Kenai Mayor John Williams is stepping down.
Williams made his surprise announcement during Wednesday's Kenai Chamber of Commerce meeting at Paradisos Restaurant. Following his annual "State of the City" address, Williams shocked the crowd by announcing he will not file for re-election in August.
"Today, before this chamber of commerce luncheon, where I have had the honor and pleasure of speaking so many times, I am going to make it official," Williams said. "I choose not to run for the office of mayor of the city of Kenai again."
The mayor's announcement, while sudden, was not entirely unexpected. He had been hinting that this may be his last term in office, but according to administration officials, nothing was certain until Wednesday's announcement.
"We knew he had been talking about it, but we didn't know anything," Kenai City Manager Linda Snow said following the meeting.
Williams' announcement included a recap of his time in office and notes of thanks to city staff, as well as the citizens who voted to keep him in office for nearly two decades.
"I choose to thank each and every citizen of the greater Kenai community who has supported me during my six terms as your mayor. Additionally, I want to thank the administration of the city, especially my city clerk, Carol Freas, without whose help I could never have accomplished so many of the things that were done," he said.
Freas, who was clerk when Williams took office, said she'll miss Williams' uncanny ability to remember the history of the town he's served.
"He's got a huge memory," she said. "It amazes me how much he knows about both the city and the political process."
Freas said she'll also miss Williams' ability to keep her and the rest of the administration on its toes with his deft handling of city business.
"It's always been interesting," she said.
Snow said she's going to miss working with Williams, someone she said was a prime motivation for her applying for the city manager's job.
"I wanted to become the Kenai city manager because of John Williams," Snow said.
During his remarks, Will-iams took time out to reminisce about some of the changes he's seen in the city since he took office. He said that when he became mayor, Alaska was in the midst of a post-boom recession that saw 30,000 people leave the state and a collapse in the real estate and banking sectors.
"It was the worst of times to begin a political career and most certainly the worst of times to begin as a new mayor," he said.
However, since Alaska's economy was at such a low point, Williams said his decision to run for mayor also was a great opportunity.
"Things were so bad that no matter what a person did, it could only be an improvement," he joked.
Since Williams took over, things have improved for both the city and the state. Statewide, oil prices rebounded and the real estate market came back. Meanwhile, Kenai's population has risen by approximately 2,000 residents over the past 18 years.
Williams' mark on the city can be seen in numerous places around town, as he's been a tireless promoter of capital projects within the city.
Some major projects the mayor has helped build while in office include the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center, the Vintage Pointe Manor senior housing complex and the Kenai Multipurpose Facility. He's also spent much of his time lobbying at the state and federal levels to get funding for a proposed Kenai coastal trail and bluff erosion project.
He's also represented the state of Alaska on the Small Cities Council for the National League of Cities and the National Congress of Cities; been president of the Alaska Conference of Mayors; been named Elected Official of the Year by the Alaska Municipal League; and honored as Mayor Emeritus of Alaska.
Despite the fact that he'll leave a lasting legacy behind, a sometimes tearful Williams did not dwell on his accomplishments during Wednesday's announcement. Instead, he chose to thank the people who have stood by him during his time as mayor including his wife of 36 years, Sharon while also urging his fellow citizens to get involved in local politics.
"Don't be afraid to step forward," he said. "Do it for your community."
As for his future plans, Williams didn't say whether he intends to continue a career in politics by seeking another elected position. However, Williams did hint that local voters may again have a chance to cast a vote for him.
"There are many jobs yet undone, other projects yet to be built, and more elections still to come," he said. "You haven't seen the last of me yet."
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