Wilmington City Council must fill another vacancy after Williams resigns

Wilmington City Councilman Bob Williams resigned this week, late in his second term, and now council will have to fill a vacancy for the second time since November. (City of Wilmington)

Wilmington City Councilman Bob Williams resigned this week, late in his second term, and now council will have to fill a vacancy for the second time since November. (City of Wilmington)

Wilmington doesn’t hold a special election to fill a vacancy on City Council. The members pick the newbie.

That process led to a bitter four-month dispute among members when Councilman Nnamdi Chukwuocha had to step down after being elected to the state House of Representatives in November.

Members even changed the city code to resolve the stalemate.

Now the 13-member Council has another midterm vacancy, triggering the process once again.

Second-term Councilman Bob Williams surprised members by resigning this week. The former police lieutenant who is now a registered nurse is moving to a Newark suburb close to the charter school his son will attend.

Williams said the school in his Wilmington feeder pattern, Baltz Elementary in Elsmere just outside Wilmington, has low academic proficiency, and wasn’t the best fit for his son, who enters kindergarten in September.

Instead the child is going to Aspira Academy near Newark, a dual language charter school that educates students in both English and Spanish. Williams and his wife, who is also a nurse, have a younger daughter who also will attend Aspira, he said.

Williams, who retired from the police force after 20 years and then was elected to Council, said his legislative accomplishments included sponsoring laws that brought accountability to the body’s discretionary spending fund and banned off-road vehicles from city streets.

“I looked at 26-plus years of dedicated service to the city of Wilmington. I think I did my time. I think I did what I needed to do,’’ Williams told WHYY. “But there’s a higher calling, which is my children’s needs, so I had to answer that rather than regret not answering my call.”

Acrimony led to change in city code

Williams’ decision sends council back to the drawing board. Their attempt to replace Chukwuocha after he was elected state representative led to a nasty dispute. Some argued that the five-person selection panel was handpicked by Council President Hanifa Shabazz to find a supporter of Mayor Mike Purzycki.

Members rejected their pick, who happened to be Chukwuocha’s twin brother Albert Mills. But after Council passed a new law that lets all 12 remaining members interview candidates instead of the five-person panel, council selected former parole officer and magistrate judge Linda Gray.

Shabazz believes the process will work better this time.

“In fact we’ve already sent out information inviting people to apply,” Shabazz said. “I pray that it goes smoothly and there’s no controversy but you never know.

Shabazz hopes Williams’ seat is filled by the start of September.

Williams is confident that the process to replace him won’t be an acrimonious one.

“I honestly believe that worked in the best interest because every council member had a chance to hear their resume, ask questions and make their determination,’’ he said. “And I think how we overcame that obstacle was getting everybody’s input and it was the most fair, equitable process.”

Shabazz added that it’s a shame Williams is moving out of Wilmington to find a better public educational opportunity for his children.

She said it was an “indictment of our current educational system” that has Wilmington divided into five separate suburban-oriented districts, which includes one that concentrates on vocational-technical education. Students at most traditional public schools in or near the city limits score poorly in the state’s standardized tests.

Shabazz said former Councilman Williams “is just one of many people who want to put their children in a good school system and doesn’t feel that the school system that’s offered to Wilmington is sufficient for their children, so they do move out of Wilmington.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.