Dec 16, 2012 - By Eric Blom Staff WriterAfter three terms, the three-term Republican leaves office on Jan. 7.
Pat Hickerson has been a Fremont County Commissioner for 10 years. Now that his tenure is nearing an end, he's proud of his record and has many good memories from his time on the county's highest governing body.
Hickerson leaves office Jan. 7.
Before he was a county commissioner, service on the county fire board and Fremont County Fire District Commission gave Hickerson a taste of public office.
He decided to run for county commission in 2002, he said, to help maintain the freedoms and opportunities that he grew up with for his children and grandchildren.
That year 23 people contended for three seats in the primary election, but Hickerson won one of them. Four years later he was up against 17 others for three spots in the primay but kept his seat on the commission.
Hickerson defended his seat again in 2010, defeating one opponent in the first year of districted commission elections.
Though Hickerson was in the middle of a four-year term, he agreed run again in 2012 to keep the staggered commission elections balanced. A close loss to Stephanie Kessler unseated him in November.
Finances, multiple use
Hickerson's focus on the commission was how the county makes and spends money. He said the commission has always been able to balance the budget and operate according to conservative financial principles.
"We've allowed some growth in government but kept it to a reasonable level," he said.
On many Mondays before the commission's Tuesday meetings, Hickerson read over each expense.
"I think that sends a good message," Hickerson said. "You're a little more responsible if you know someone's looking."
Commission chairman Doug Thompson served with Hickerson all 10 years.
"(Hickerson) was a strong advocate for multiple use and for looking after taxpayer dollars and the revenue stream," Thompson said.
Hickerson led development of a new land-use plan for the Shoshone National Forest. With his influence, the new plan expands access to motorized recreation and to logging without sacrificing the needs of the wildlife, Hickerson said.
"We'll have more diverse recreation and more economic opportunities under this plan," Hickerson said.
Thompson said Hickerson "brought out inconsistencies in administration and land grabs by various agencies. He would go through the plan and point those out so we could discuss them from a point of knowledge."
Hickerson took the lead in working with the State Loan and Investment Board, which allocates state money for local government projects. The state awards money on a county-by-county basis, and county governments and the municipalities within them have to agree on spending.
Hickerson's greatest regret was the American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit that brought about districts for commissioners.
Before the lawsuit, all five seats were at-large countywide. Two would be up for election one year, the other three would two years later. The ruling created single-candidate districts.
"It greatly diminishes each citizen's voice," he said.
Before the change, all citizens citizens voted for two or three commissioners each election cycle, but now only voters in specific districts can vote, and not in every election.
Hickerson traveled often within the state and around the nation to meetings of the Wyoming County Commissioner's Association and the National Association of County Officials. Those trips gave him many memories, he said.
"I got to see a lot of places in Wyoming I probably never would have gone to," Hickerson said.
Thompson and Hickerson traveled to many of those meetings together. Their trip about five years ago to Anchorage, Alaska, for a Western Interstate Region conference of NACO was particularly memorable for them both.
"That was a wonderful trip," Hickerson said. "They fed us well; we had fresh fish."
But the trip back was less fun. They had a 10-hour red-eye flight out of Anchorage, and seats in the emergency exit row that did not recline.
"We were both stuck sitting straight up trying to nap," Hickerson said.
"We're going to have to get a better seat if we do this again," Thompson told Hickerson.
Both have fond memories of a hybrid Chev-rolet Tahoe. Hickerson didn't want to buy the vehicle despite a federal grant to pay for it.
"My problem was the mileage difference was not enough to recoup the cost of the hybrid vehicle," Hickerson said. "Even though it was a federal grant, it's still taxpayer dollars."
Commissioners voted 4-1 to buy the vehicle, with only Hickerson voting "no." But once it arrived, Hickerson was the first to drive it, Thompson said. Hickerson said it was a nice vehicle, and he ended up driving it a lot for county business.
The other commissioners joked about it.
"We called it Pat's staff car," said Thompson. "We said, 'It's the one you wanted!'"
Hickerson does not have plans to seek public office again, though he said he would not rule the idea out. He said being a commissioner is a complex job.
"It's too difficult as you get older," he said, adding that he is nearing retirement age.
He said, his two businesses -- a sawmill and a trucking company -- will fill his time.
January. He is also helping his son build a house.
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