Former SEPTA spokeswoman is glad to be away from the frontlines

Jerri Williams, former SEPTA media relations director, says she's glad to be away from the front lines.

JERRI WILLIAMS got a text around midnight Monday with big news: The transit authority was on strike.

"Damn!" she exclaimed.

Then, Williams rolled over and went back to sleep. The former SEPTA spokeswoman doesn't jump up when news breaks out anymore.

Luckily for her, those days are over. Williams left her job as director of media relations at SEPTA earlier this year to pursue her dream of writing crime fiction. Her first novel, Pay to Play, about a female FBI agent investigating corruption in this city's strip club industry, was released in September.

On Tuesday - as the city's subways, trolleys and buses were at a virtual standstill and frustrations were higher than the temperature during an August heat wave - instead of being caught up in the madness, Williams was at home in Jersey, a nice place to be.

"It feels strange. It feels surreal," Williams told me Tuesday. "Although I was only at SEPTA seven years, I did go through two of these negotiations being intimately involved in what we were doing and what we were saying ... I know exactly what's going on. What they're feeling. What they're doing. The anxiety of it all."

At SEPTA, management is filling in for strikers. Workers aren't getting paid for days off. After a certain period, people's health benefits are suspended. Meanwhile, the public is hating on SEPTA for the big mess.

Add to that all of the concerns surrounding next week's presidential election and whether a new contract will be in place before next Tuesday, and tensions are even higher.

"This is national news," Williams pointed out. "SEPTA certainly doesn't want to have any kind of interference in the political machine."

Speaking of national news, Williams also is all over the FBI's eyebrow-raising revelation that agents are reviewing emails by longtime Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin that were discovered during an unrelated investigation of sexting by her husband, Anthony Weiner. Critics have called for the resignation of FBI Director James B. Comey for alerting legislators about what's taking place just two weeks before an election.

Since I had Williams on the phone, I asked her what she thought of the scandal. Williams spent 26 years as a special agent with the FBI, most recently as a spokesperson for the Philadelphia division. It turns out that she's as appalled as anyone.

"So much of a case is based on allegations ... until the case is over, you don't know what you have. That's why it's so important to keep silent until the investigation is complete," Williams said. "And so I am very concerned that the FBI director, more than anybody, is speaking out, and not followed that policy and procedure that has been established from the very beginning and allows us to prove to the world that we are impartial and that we are not influenced by others.

"We do that by just putting our nose to the grindstone and doing the work and not popping up and talking about it until the work is complete," she added.

"So I'm just confused and concerned about the fact he has diverted from that normal procedure, and I'm very concerned that is possibly damaging the reputation and the integrity of the FBI."

Williams was with the FBI from 1982 until 2008, and remains fiercely loyal because it helped make her into the woman she is. Her next novel is tentatively called Greedy Givers and was inspired by a Ponzi scheme targeting nonprofits that she successfully investigated.

When she's not writing, Williams also hosts a true crime podcast called "FBI Retired Case File Review." It's available on iTunes and her website, jerriwilliams.com.

Other than that, Williams is just chillin'. She's earned it.

armstrj@phillynews.com

215-854-2223 @JeniceArmstrong

Blog: ph.ly/HeyJen