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    Governments' crisis handler tries to relax

    By MICHAEL CANNING

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published November 3, 2001


    When you've led the kind of life that Norman Hickey has, the overriding challenge at 75 becomes, as he put it, "being not so busy."

    Hickey has been a Depression-era sewer pipe rat chaser and junk collector, Marine bodyguard, U.S. State Department liaison to South Vietnam during the war, and longtime city and county government manager. Add in Hickey's knack for taking on new jobs in times of crisis, and it's easy to understand why it's tough for Hickey to suddenly act retired.

    Hickey rode out Hillsborough's government corruption scandal in the early 1980s as the incorruptible county administrator, only to leave in 1986 after numerous clashes with commissioners.

    He then became chief administrative officer of San Diego County in California. By the time he left in 1992, it had shed its "County in Chaos" nickname. Ready for his next crisis, Hickey found one in St. Petersburg.

    By 1992, the city was reeling from the forced resignations of its two city managers and the firing of Police Chief Ernest "Curt" Curtsinger, an event that stoked racial tensions in the city. Hickey agreed to be city manager for a year.

    In a controversial deal, Hickey offered Curtsinger $585,000 and a city job outside the Police Department on the eve of a referendum that sought to reinstate Curtsinger. Near the end of Hickey's run, voters eliminated his appointed post and opted to directly elect a mayor to lead the city.

    In 1994 and 1996, Hickey spent yearlong stints in Russia and some former Soviet republics, helping local governments convert to democracy.

    Hickey and his wife, Dolores, now live in a Daytona Beach house they have owned for 38 years. They summer in their Smoky Mountains cabin in North Carolina. Hickey still volunteers as a consultant to local governments.

    He may be retired, but he says he can't "shut down totally."

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