For The Record

Head of Georgia environmental agency steps down to oversee Jekyll Island management

By: - May 23, 2023 2:48 pm

DNR Commissioner Mark Williams reads from prepared remarks in an emotional farewell to the agency’s board Tuesday. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

This story was updated at 1 p.m. Wednesday, May 24, 2023 with additional comment. 

Longtime commissioner of the state Department of Natural Resources announced Tuesday that he will step down to lead the Jekyll Island Authority.

Mark Williams, who has led the agency for more than 12 years, told the Board of Natural Resources that he planned to start his new job on the Golden Isles on July 1.

“A lot of factors weighed into my decision. I love DNR with all my soul, but I love my family more,” Williams said in emotional remarks Tuesday.

“Every hour I spend traveling is an hour I miss with them and Pam,” who is his wife.  Williams, who is a Valdosta native and a former state lawmaker, received a standing ovation at Tuesday’s board meeting in downtown Atlanta.

The state agency has far-reaching and varied responsibilities. Not only does it oversee hunting and fishing in Georgia, but it also manages historic sites as well as state parks and other public lands.

The agency also includes the Environmental Protection Division, which plays an important role in protecting the state’s water and air quality as well as vulnerable plant and animal species.

For example, the EPD will ultimately decide whether to allow an Alabama-based company, Twin Pines Minerals, to mine near the Okefenokee Swamp. The division also regulates the toxic coal ash left behind after decades of burning coal to generate electricity. 

“We have worked through tough issues collectively with a positive tone, and with that attitude, any problem can be solved,” Williams said to the agency’s staff.

Williams is only the sixth person to lead the agency. Gov. Brian Kemp will name his replacement later.

“Under his leadership, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources has made great strides in conserving the beautiful assets of our state and our shared natural heritage,” Kemp said in a statement. “With a record of service stretching back to his time in the Georgia House of Representatives and through his contributions on many boards and authorities, he has impacted our state in a significant and lasting way.”

The Jekyll Island Authority, which is the state-designated governing entity that manages the barrier island, unanimously approved Williams’ hiring on the same day. 

As director, he will earn $250,000 with a performance incentive of up to $25,000 and a $10,000 vehicle allowance, according to an authority spokesperson. As commissioner, Williams’ salary is $180,000, according to Open Georgia. 

Williams will replace the current executive director, Jones Hooks, who is retiring.

The Board of Natural Resources also voted to give EPD Director Rick Dunn a $15,000 pay raise at its Tuesday meeting. Dunn’s new salary will be $190,000. 

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated how long Williams has been commissioner. 


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Jill Nolin
Jill Nolin

Jill Nolin has spent nearly 15 years reporting on state and local government in four states, focusing on policy and political stories and tracking public spending. She has spent the last five years chasing stories in the halls of Georgia’s Gold Dome, earning recognition for her work showing the impact of rising opioid addiction on the state’s rural communities. She is a graduate of Troy University.