It’s Thursday so let’s talk about David Hickey.
The name may be unfamiliar to some. Dave had a successful career in the Citrus County School District, culminating in his election as superintendent of schools in 2000.
He was one of my favorite elected people, among the short list of those who served but were not really political at all.
I was saddened this week to learn of Dave’s passing at 79 of cancer. His death conjured up all sorts of memories of a time when I was starting to cut my teeth on the intricacies of Citrus County politics. The School Board was my training ground.
You’d think, School Board politics? Hit the snooze button. Yeah, today maybe, but not then. I’m not going to rehash it because most of those people are still around, retired and otherwise enjoying life. No need to relive old wounds.
Nothing in politics happens in a vacuum and the circumstances that led to Dave Hickey being elected to office are no different.
We had one superintendent who retired and the governor appointed his assistant to succeed him. That man didn’t run for office and the person elected was great on vision but not so much the details, so a void began to grow between his office and the rank-and-file school educators.
Dave was assistant superintendent after a career as principal, teacher, and coach at Crystal River High and Crystal River Middle School.
Friends encouraged him to run against the boss for superintendent. It was a bold move for someone with no political experience.
Turns out, that didn’t matter.
I've spent a lot of time with two types of people in Citrus County education: school people and administrator people. School people work in the schools. Administrator people work in offices. Both types are important, but many administrator people are really school people at heart.
Dave was pure school people. Dave loved kids, teachers and parents. They loved him too.
An event one evening made that very clear.
Former Supervisor of Elections Susan Gill and I teamed up to conduct candidate forums for high school kids shortly before each primary. The candidates generally weren’t big fans because the people asking questions and in attendance could not, technically, actually vote. Some were seniors and registered but most were ordinary teens on a class assignment.
I don’t remember any details of the forum in 2000 when Dave and his opponent were there. But one thing is as vivid today as that night.
When the forum concluded, I watched as these teens crowded around Coach Hickey. I looked over and the incumbent was standing with administrators.
“Holy cow,” I thought, “Hickey’s going to win.”
If those kids don’t vote, their parents probably do. And they did. Dave won by about 1,000 votes.
Unfortunately, the political gods were not kind to Dave after his election.
On the same ballot, voters elected two new school board members. One was Ginger Bryant. You probably know her. The other was Carol Snyder, whose name may not ring a bell.
We didn’t know much about Carol even during the campaigning. I recall that she served on the faculty at Wright State University in Ohio, which I thought was pretty cool.
The race was routine and Carol defeated an equally impressive candidate. At her first School Board meeting, as she read the list of things she wanted to accomplish, Carol concluded with this: No more prayer at board meetings.
Well. That’s a decent topic to debate but it never came up on the campaign trail. Never at all. Suddenly we’re having prayer debate at the School Board, and everyone is a little nervous.
Things went completely haywire a month later.
A Fellowship of Christian Athletes club had an event at Inverness Middle School the day before winter break. A parent learned about it and wasn’t happy. The parent called Carol Snyder. All heck broke loose.
And for six months, that was all the talk at School Board meetings. God in the classroom. The debate was fierce, personal and totally unrelated to anything the School Board could do. I recall it being an extremely frustrating and tiresome time for the School Board and administration.
Poor Dave Hickey, eager to start his reign as superintendent with all the initiatives he had ready to roll out, and they went on the back burner while the public debated this non-issue time and again.
(By the way, if this sounds suspiciously familiar to today’s library antics, you’re spot on.)
Dave served one term, retiring in 2004. Dave, like those before him and Sam Himmel who followed, were exceptional community leaders whose focus on student success continues to pay dividends today.
Citrus County has a tremendous school system, one that Dave Hickey helped to create. We owe him a deep debt of gratitude.
Services for David Hickey are 10 a.m. Friday, Oct. 27 at Brown Funeral Home and Crematory in Lecanto. The family will receive visitors from 9 to 10 a.m.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.