February 16, 2011
By Mike Killeen
On day one of a new job, an employee might get a tour of the building, meet new co-workers and find out where to park.
On his first day on the job as deputy mayor of St. Paul, Minn., Paul Williams talked about snow plowing.
"By day three, I was out meeting with the snow plow supervisors and talking about how we needed to handle record snowfalls (from December)," said Paul, a 1984 graduate of Saint John's University who started his new job Jan. 3 in Mayor Chris Coleman's administration.
So much for slowly easing into a new job.
"The deputy mayor is the voice of the mayor in the mayor's absence," Paul said. "But really, the primary focus of the deputy mayor is to be the chief operating officer of the city. St. Paul is a 'strong' mayor city, meaning the executive branch - the mayor's office - really coordinates all of the city's major operations. It's my job to ensure that the trains run on time and that city services are delivered effectively on a day-to-day basis."
Paul said he was attracted to the leadership challenge of the job, knowing full well that potential losses in state aid, stagnant tax bases and a struggling economy were all realities that would make life difficult for cities.
"Even in the midst of these difficult times, St. Paul has tremendous assets and tremendous opportunities. Some of those opportunities were particularly compelling to me," Paul said. "For example, the mayor has a very strong commitment and set of initiatives around improving education, and really getting kids prepared, not only to move on to higher education, but in fact to be productive workers. It's about economic competitiveness. That was compelling, his energy and his vision for that."
Paul is also excited about the opportunities presented by the upcoming construction of the Central Corridor rail line down University Avenue - an area close to his boyhood home.
"To be a leader in helping to steward that change process and helping shape how it impacts the community is a major opportunity that I was really energized by," Paul said.
"The role of deputy mayor is not an easy one to fill, but I have no doubt that Paul is the right person at the right time," Chris Coleman said in a statement. "Paul will be instrumental in cultivating community partners as well as furthering St. Paul as a national leader on education, sustainability and focusing on the basics - keeping the streets safe and our parks, libraries and recreation systems strong."
The Coleman-Williams partnership goes back to grade school, when both attended St. Luke's Grade School in St. Paul. "That's where I first met the mayor, as early as second or third grade," Paul recalled. From there, Paul attended the Breck School before heading north to Saint John's, where he joined his older brother, Chuck, who was a football and track star for the Johnnies.
Paul majored in government (the forerunner to political science) and philosophy at SJU.
"I came out of there feeling fairly well-rounded," Paul said. "I really firmly believe in the liberal arts approach. You need to be prepared across a broad range of issue areas and areas of thought in order to make an impact in the work world.
"I also felt like I came out of Saint John's as a pretty decent writer, and that has benefitted me to this day," Paul said. "In philosophy, you had to be able to write. Government certainly emphasized writing, but I remember those philosophy classes - in particular, Bob Joyce and Rene McGraw, OSB. You really had to write well.
"The other area that I think is most important that I gained from Saint John's is around relationship building. The relationships are just so central to the Saint John's experience. I have a huge network of friends. I'm still connected to a number of folks in the Class of '84, as well as several classes both before and after my year. That extended Saint John's network - the relationship building and your relational skills - is really a critical skill. I feel like Saint John's absolutely instilled that in me."
Paul isn't the only Johnnie in the Coleman administration. On Feb. 7, Richard Carlbom became communications director for the mayor. Richard, a 2004 graduate of SJU who was an adjunct professor at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University, also served as mayor of St. Joseph, Minn.