Gary D. Williamson is well aware he doesn't always see people at their finest moments.
That's because Williamson is a customer service specialist for the U. of I. parking department, which means when he does interact with them, it's usually to either resolve a citation or collect money - which can leave a customer understandably cranky.
Being able to ameliorate disputes is a required skill when you work at the parking department, he said, whether it's as an enforcement officer cruising campus or a customer service worker at a desk.
"I think our staff does a wonderful job of explaining and conveying why citations are issued and why they may have received one," he said. "I work with a lot of good people."
Williamson has been a U. of I. employee for 26 years, and he has been with the parking department since 2010.
He started at the U. of I. as an inventory clerk in the department of materials science and engineering, in which he dealt with the shipping, receiving and physical inventory for the department. He then went on to be an inventory specialist at Central Stores before serving nine years as a customer service specialist at the computer store at the Illini Union known as the Micro Order Center.
"I thought it might be time for a change," Williamson said of the opportunity to work for the parking department.
He said his current job is similar to a communications position because part of the responsibility is to ensure that everyone in the organization is informed. And it's a big organization. In addition to employee parking issues, he works with outside vendors who want to park on campus and with local towing companies to ensure enforcement follow-up.
As a parking dispatcher, he takes calls from field officers who ask for vehicle records and whether a specific vehicle should be ticketed or towed. He said he also coordinates bag meters, which are meter covers used to regulate parking during campus special events.
The department also provides motor assistance services for students, staff and guests on public streets on campus or in the university's lots. The service includes assisting motorists who need gas for an empty tank, air for a low tire or a jump-start for a dead battery. The department also will unlock a vehicle if keys have been locked inside.
"Every day is exciting in some way," Williamson said.
Unofficial St. Patrick's Day, held each March, is one of the biggest annual events for the department, Williamson said.
One of the challenges for parking employees working the event is ensuring that lots and parking garages on campus are cleared for the people who pay to park in those spots.
Williamson and his co-workers start their day at 3 a.m., towing vehicles and ensuring employee spaces are open by 7 a.m. During past Unofficial events, the department has cleared as many as 30 to 80 cars from the parking garage next to the Swanlund Administration Building, an attractive parking location because of its proximity to the bars on Green Street.
He said the department has done well in past years getting information out about parking, though.
"I would say our instance of selling day permits for the lots that guests are permitted to park in has increased significantly over the last several years," Williamson said.
The number of parking violators on Unofficial this year was down for the third consecutive year, Williamson said.
"We consider this a victory, as our goal is to obtain compliance, not to cite or tow as many as we can," he said. "I believe this was due to the education of the parkers as to where to park and the extreme cold."
For him, the best part of this job is the opportunity to work with the rest of campus.
"I get to deal with all the departments on campus for either solving their problems or making them aware of issues that they may have," Williamson said. "You get to know the campus community."
Outside of work, Williamson is a big movie fan and enjoys attending Roger Ebert's Film Festival. His most memorable "Eberfest" moment was getting to meet Roger Ebert in person "even if just to thank him for the wonderful festival. And before he was unable to speak (because of cancer), to get to listen to his commentary and feelings for the films he chose."
He said he also enjoys cooking, and in the past has made and sold cheesecakes. Williamson, born and raised in Champaign, said his father, Bennie Williamson, worked at the U. of I. for 38 years as a maintenance inspector for Orchard Downs housing.