The Colony secretary has seen city grow
Job working for police chief turned into 23-year career at center of activity
By RACHEL HORTON / The Dallas Morning News
The Colony was 2 years old when a young singer who once dreamed of a career in showbiz took a job as secretary to the police chief.
Twenty-three years later, City Secretary Patti Hicks has been at center stage in The Colony as long as most residents can remember.
She's risen from police chief secretary to city secretary and has been interim city manager four times. She also recently was elected president of the Texas Municipal Clerks Association, an 800-member organization of city clerks and secretaries that provides educational and professional development.
When she started "she was working in a pre-fab building and the City Hall was in a house, and the city secretary's office was in one of the bedrooms," said longtime friend and co-worker Ruthann Devlin.
"We've come a long way."
Seven mayors have taken office during Mrs. Hicks' tenure, and the city's population has grown from about 10,000 to 31,000. When she took the secretarial job for the police chief in 1979, Mrs. Hicks said, she had no idea it would turn into a career spanning more than two decades.
"I didn't get out of school and say, 'When I grow up, I want to be a city secretary,' " said Mrs. Hicks, 56. "It was a job I sort of grew into by virtue of being here at the city at the right time."
In addition to running elections, preparing agendas and keeping the minutes from City Council meetings, the city secretary's office maintains the history of the city, signs off on all legal documents and handles all open records requests, Mrs. Hicks said.
As a young woman, Mrs. Hicks wanted to become a singer.
Growing up in Allen, she performed at rodeos, football games, weddings, funerals and parties.
"At one time when I was much younger, I thought, 'Oh gosh, this is what I really want to do,' " she said. "But that's really not the life I want. If you have a family, the family has to come first."
Mrs. Hicks, who now lives in The Colony, became city secretary in 1985. She is married to Denton County Deputy Constable Ira Hicks. The couple has five grown children and 10 grandchildren.
"When you work for a city and you live in that city, it becomes much more than a job. Everything you do revolves around the city," Mrs. Hicks said. "All of my children have worked for the city, whether it was a summer job lifeguarding or just doing some odd job for the Parks Department."
Mrs. Hicks' long tenure and experience have given her the opportunity to run the city more than once. She was interim city manager in 1994, 1996, 1997 and again for a 10-month stint in 2000.
"Her whole career has been devoted to this city, and that doesn't mean that you work 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday," said Maggie Burkett, The Colony's human resources director and a longtime friend.
"She works a lot of hours. It doesn't matter if it's a parade or a Christmas tree lighting for a Veteran's Day event, whatever, she's there."
Some tough times
Mrs. Hicks has, at times, found herself in the midst of divisive city politics. The growing city has had its share of controversy in recent years, including an FBI investigation into corruption in Denton County that named a former mayor as one of its subjects. Dr. Bill Manning, the former mayor, is a longtime friend of Mrs. Hicks.
Dr. Manning and real estate consultant Don Blackwood sold land purchase rights in 2000 to the Maharishi Global Development Fund, which proposed to build the world's tallest skyscraper in The Colony along State Highway 121. Dr. Manning offered the fund possible tax breaks for building on it.
When plans for the skyscraper were scrapped, the FBI began investigating Dr. Manning's role in the land deal. The city's law firm determined that Dr. Manning had no conflict of interest.
Dr. Manning has denied any wrongdoing. "That was a difficult time for the city, because it just gave us a bad reputation," Mrs. Hicks said. "I know all of these people personally and I count them as friends. Personally, it was not easy because I saw some people that I care about going through a hard time."
Mrs. Hicks, who reports directly to the City Council, said it has been important for her to keep a separation between her personal life and her career.
"My political views, I keep to myself, and I encourage my employees to do the same, because we are in a very sensitive position," she said.
After her most recent stint as city manager, Mrs. Hicks continued to run several city departments until the hiring of Assistant City Manager Tony Johnston. It has only been in recent months that she has been able to focus her energies entirely on the duties of a city secretary, she said.
One outcropping of that newfound focus is a plan to switch to paperless council agendas in the near future, Mrs. Hicks said. Council members would receive agenda packets on CD.
"That will save us an enormous amount of time, and paper," she said.
To outsiders, the office of city secretary can appear as little more than keeping records and helping prepare for council meetings, said Mrs. Devlin, who began working as deputy city secretary in 1996.
"When I started here, I didn't have a clue," she said. "It involves so much. You have to know a little bit about a lot of things."
Doing things right
Mrs. Hicks says she is a good fit for the job because she is detail-oriented and organized.
"I'm very conscientious about things being right," she said.
Though some tasks are mundane, the people who come to the office for information provide variety, she said.
"You never know exactly what question will be asked," Mrs. Hicks said. "It's kind of like we're the hub, and if you want information, that's where you go."
Because of the many challenges of the job, Mrs. Hicks is a strong advocate of continuing education for municipal clerks, she said. In the coming year, she plans to travel the state and encourage city clerks who have not earned certification from the Texas Municipal Clerks Association to take the steps necessary to become certified.
The association's certification program is a three-year process consisting of several university equivalency courses and seminars.
Friends of Mrs. Hicks say her outgoing personality makes her a good fit to speak publicly about her job.
"She's very vivacious and outgoing," said Marty Hendrix, Lewisville city secretary and a friend of Mrs. Hicks.
Over the years, Mrs. Hicks has maintained her interest in singing. She is a member of her church choir and still performs at weddings and other events, she said.
"She's a wonderful singer," Ms. Hendrix said. "We often put her on the spot to sing in public places, like restaurants or karaoke bars. We often embarrass her that way, and she willingly goes along with it."
Mrs. Hicks and her husband of 16 years have purchased a Victorian home in Honey Grove and are working to refurbish it for retirement.
When the couple will actually retire and move into the home remains to be seen, Mrs. Hicks said.
"I'm here until they run me out," she said. "I feel like I've made a difference in The Colony, and that's why I enjoy it and keep doing it."