Driving Mister Williams

A St. Louis Public Schools chauffeur rebuts the rumormongering about his former passenger.

Former St. Louis Public Schools superintendent Creg Williams' severance package includes a lump-sum payout of $222,500; $7,500 in deferred compensation, earmarked for a retirement account; health insurance through August; and pay for all unused vacation time and up to nine days of so-called Paid Time Off accrued through his July 14 resignation.

Payday for the departed Williams was to have come no later than this past Friday, July 28.

In exchange, the former superintendent and the St. Louis school board, according to his severance letter, "mutually agree to not make any disparaging statements about the other and further agree to not make any statements to the media or to others regarding your resignation and the facts surrounding your resignation other than general statements acknowledging that you have submitted your resignation...and you believe such action is in the best interest of the St. Louis Public Schools."

Given that Williams agreed to a four-year contract sixteen months ago, the settlement has some observers of the SLPS brouhaha wondering why the former superintendent didn't attempt to cash in more chips: Did current superintendent Diana Bourisaw begin her audit of Williams' reign and immediately uncover an ugly blemish that reduced his bargaining power? And in hindsight, what's to be made of the year-long whisper campaign centering on suspicions that Williams and his former employee, exiled Vashon basketball coach Floyd Irons, had become too close for comfort? (Last year's financial audit of Vashon High School showed that hundreds of thousands of dollars went unaccounted for during Irons' year-long tenure as interim principal, which ended in August, 2004, and the prior two years, during which he filled in while then-principal Dorothy Ludgood underwent treatment for cancer.)

(Kristen Hinman wrote about Williams' resignation in "The Execution of Creg Williams," published in the July 20 Riverfront Times; Hinman also covered the Vashon audit, in "Irons in the Fire," published November 16, 2005. )

Prominent amid the chatter was the fact that, per his contract, the school district had provided Williams with "regular use" of "a board-owned vehicle."

"You know the story about him using board security people to drive him around," board vice president Bill Purdy told the Riverfront Times four days before Williams' ouster (and the day before the board axed Irons). "He's entitled to a board-provided automobile. We own one, but he doesn't use it. What he does is, whenever he wants to go anywhere day or night — and from what I understand it's 24/7 — he calls a board security guard who comes in a board security car, picks him up and takes him to wherever he wants to go, be it a school meeting, dinner or anywhere else. And the report the other day was that he and his friend Floyd Irons were being driven in a board security car out to Harrah's Casino. The driver had to wait there for hours for them to do whatever they were doing in there to bring them back to St. Louis. Everyone in town knows that."

According to e-mails and postings on the St. Louis Schools Watch blog (http://slswatch.pubdef.net/), a former teacher saw Williams and Irons gambling and eating one evening prior to July 1 while a board-owned security car waited for them outside the casino.

School board security officer Charles Smith confirms to the Riverfront Times that he was the board security officer on call 24/7 for Williams. But Smith — known to district employees as "Smitty" — says the rumors about Williams and Irons are bogus.

Smith says he never drove Williams to a gambling establishment, with or without Floyd Irons. "Never," says Smith. "And I ain't never driven Floyd Irons anywhere. The only people that would ride with the superintendent would be PR people and [former school board member] Ms. [Darnetta] Clinkscale. I took them to Jeff City, Clayton, Ladue, St. Charles — sometimes at twelve a.m. I'd even take him places."

Adds Smith: "When he first got here I used to say, 'Hey, it's the weekend. Let's go down to the President [Casino]. He said, 'No. I don't go to boats, Smitty.' I've never taken him to the boats. That is the truth."

Smith, who's now 65, signed on with the district in 1979, watching over students as a school safety officer. Over the years he worked his way up to the post of Board of Education Investigative Officer — "equal to a sergeant in the police force," he proudly notes. The job has entailed checking out suspicious activity or other problems on school grounds, and keeping the peace at athletic events and board meetings. It requires him to attach a weapon to his pressed blue-and-white uniform.

Upon Williams' arrival in St. Louis in April 2005, Smith says the superintendent preferred to be chauffeured so he could talk on the phone in transit. He drove Williams to business meetings during the week and to clothing and home-furnishing stores on weekends, Smith says. He says he worked most days from 11 a.m. until well after 9 or 10 p.m. and accrued $1,600 to $1,800 a month in overtime for his troubles. (The extra income, he says, helped him purchase a new home in south city last month.)

Smith says some of the innuendo district staffers aimed at Irons and Williams irked him, particularly speculation about the school officials' off-hours activities.

The driver says he was frequently asked whether he'd ferried Irons and Williams to a gay bar. "I said: 'Gay bar? There's no way in the world I'd take him to a gay bar! I wouldn't want people to see me and say, 'Oh, Smitty's hanging out at a gay club.' Are you crazy? The only place where Floyd ever was at [with Williams] is a restaurant on Broadway — I can't remember the name — and Kemoll's, where there were many people for a meeting."

Smith says rumors about Williams' sexuality were rampant, and distasteful. "A lot of people, they used to say, 'Is he gay?' I said, 'No, far as I know he's not gay.' 'Well, does he have a woman girl?' I'd say, 'He has some female that's come.' I went twice to the airport to pick her up for him, and once to Union Station.

"I can't say if he was gay," Smith allows. "But I said that he does have this girl, and she's nice-looking."

Smith tells of rising early and, before his shift began, doing "dry runs" of routes in order to ensure that Williams would be on time for meetings in unfamiliar locales. Williams was a considerate and cordial boss, Smith says — with one glaring exception.

"One thing I disliked about him: When we'd go out to the restaurants and stuff, he never would invite me in," the driver reports. "Like, when we went out to [Harbor Group CEO and prominent Republican Party contributor] Mr. [Sam] Fox's house in Clayton or Ladue — I took him at 5:30 or so and we didn't leave till 10 or 10:30. I'd be sitting in the car the whole time. He never would say: 'Come in and get some of this food.' One time I asked him about that and he said, 'You can't come into these people's houses wearing no gun!' I said, 'What do you mean? I'm in uniform!'"

Creg Williams could not be reached for comment for this story.

Though many seem to believe Williams was unique in having Smitty at the wheel, the driver was enlisted midway through interim superintendent William Roberti's tenure to escort the former Brooks Brothers exec on official business. He also regularly chauffeured one of Roberti's successors, Pamela Randall Hughes. "I dealt with all of them," Smith says. (He crossed paths often with Roberti's immediate successor, Floyd Crues, but never manned a driving detail for the interim superintendent.)

Roberti and Hughes, he adds, were somewhat more sensitive to his position: "They'd say, 'Smitty, did you want something to eat?' I'd say no. They'd say, 'Come on in.'"

The security officer says he hasn't yet developed a rapport with Diana Bourisaw. "I've only taken her one place so far, and that was the [Missouri] Athletic Club," he reports. "She was meeting some state rep. But I told her, 'If you need my help, you let me know.' Like, being a female, I wouldn't want her riding certain places alone."