Willie W. Payne served the City of Pontiac in a number of different capacities for over two decades. The former mayor from 2001-2005 passed away Thursday October 3 at his home. He was 64.
Payne was a 17-year veteran of the Pontiac police force, author, and advocate for improving community/police relations. After a long career as a reporter for the Oakland Press, Payne surprised everyone when he ran for mayor of Pontiac and won. He only served one term, like many Pontiac mayors before and after him.
“The City of Pontiac extends its deepest condolences to the family and friends of former Mayor Willie Payne,” current Pontiac mayor Deirdre Waterman said. “Mayor Payne was a hardworking civil servant who diligently served as a former Pontiac Police Officer, School Board Trustee and Mayor of the City of Pontiac. In honor of Mayor Payne, the flags at City Hall will fly at half-mast. On behalf of myself and the entire Pontiac community, our thoughts and prayers are with all of those that knew and loved him.”
Payne’s tenure as the mayor of Pontiac was marred with growing deficits, forcing cuts to city services, which included the Pontiac Police Department, his former workplace. Payne had many critics, but managed to survive a recall attempt in 2003. His lost his bid for re-election in 2005 to Clarence Phillips.
Other leaders after him were not able to stop the fiscal bleeding Pontiac faced, which grew, and had to expand the job cuts to the city’s fire and police departments, until they were eventually dissolved. They were replaced by relationships with the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office and the Waterford Regional Fire Department. Pontiac’s leadership was eventually taken over by the state with the appointment of an emergency financial manager.
After politics, Payne created “The Underground Railroad Michigan Connection,” a one-man theatrical presentation with the Historical Society of Michigan that he wrote, performed and narrated for audiences in Michigan, Arkansas and his native state of Louisiana since 2006.
He was also an author of a children’s book called “My Friend the Policeman,” which showed the commonalities between police and their families and the families of the people they serve. It was released earlier this year.
Born in Spearsville, a village in Union Parish, Louisiana, in 1955, Payne attended Grambling State University.
Payne will be publicly memorialized locally and his home going services will take place in his home state of Louisiana.