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Our View: Williams’ return to NIU unnecessary

Published: Friday, May 24, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

It appears Northern Illinois University couldn’t get by without one last appearance by Eddie Williams, who is retiring May 31.

Williams, the executive vice president and chief of operations at NIU, has worked at the university for 43 years. These days, it’s rare and commendable for someone to work so long for one employer. There no doubt are many accomplishments he can point to where the university is concerned.

But if Williams wanted to take a victory lap, perhaps he should have retired a year ago. His track record in the past year makes the university – and outgoing President John Peters – look silly for allowing this brief return. Williams should have resigned before now.

He had been on paid leave from his $303,684-a-year job for more than two months since his named surfaced in an FBI search warrant served on the NIU Police Department on March 6. The warrant was broad in general – it sought years’ worth of police records – but Williams and now-fired police Chief Donald Grady were the only people specifically named.

The feds wanted to know what kind of correspondence Williams and Grady had been having about Eden’s Garden, a housing development off of Twombly Road in DeKalb that Williams owns.

No one has been charged in connection with the investigation. But it was the capstone to a year in which NIU departments for which Williams was responsible made embarrassing headlines.

First, there were the two administrators who worked under Williams who resigned in July. (The public initially was told they quit for “personal reasons,” although their separation agreements later showed both faced misconduct allegations.)

That was followed by revelations about NIU employees who were recycling scrap metal and depositing the proceeds into an off-the-books bank account called the “coffee fund.”

Williams’ response was never to offer an apology or take responsibility. Instead, he put Grady, who reported to him, in charge of investigating other people who reported to him – creating the appearance of a conflict of interest.

In November, NIU police and Grady faced criticism from the DeKalb County’s presiding judge and state’s attorney for their handling of an investigation into rape allegations against one of their own officers. Williams’ response wasn’t to take control of the situation. Instead, Bill Nicklas was called in to take over the role of vice president of public safety. Nicklas eventually removed Grady as police chief.

That brings us back to March, when Williams’ response to being named in an FBI search warrant was not to take responsibility for his management failure and resign, but to take a paid leave of absence and hire a lawyer.

Now Williams is back with the blessing of Peters, who apparently can stomach any amount of embarrassment where Williams is concerned.

It seemed as though NIU had been reorganizing in Williams’ absence, with people being hired to fill new roles. We hope that incoming President Douglas Baker will create a new leadership structure that will not concentrate so much power in the hands of a few people.

Why did NIU need Williams’ help for 10 days? What is he going to accomplish that others could not?

It seems to us that Williams has done enough.

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