Nearly 30 years of service: Looking back at Mayor Hicks’ time in office
In 1968, a 9-year-old Paul Hicks begged his parents to let him stay up to watch the national conventions on television.
"They say that was the year that changed America. It was also the year that changed me," Hicks said. "I remember thinking that this politics stuff I was seeing on the TV is really important. There are people dying and protesting. They are trying to change their government. People like Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were dying trying to do that. I thought it might be something I wanted to get into."
That little spark of passion for public service turned into a flame — leading Hicks to give almost 30 years of public service to Hastings. After serving on City Council and as mayor, Hicks revealed in April of last year that he would not be seeking re-election.
Hicks said he would use his extra time for family and friends but will miss some of the things he enjoyed about public office.
"There was something different every day and sometimes I would work on multiple different subjects in a day. One day we could be approving a new park, and then the next dealing with the city's water or a police matter," Hicks said. "I am very grateful to have served Hastings all these years."
Hicks first ran for Hastings City Council in 1990 to be an at-large council member. He was re-elected twice, serving a total of 16 years on the council.
If you ask Hicks about his biggest accomplishment during his time on City Council, he will remind you that accomplishments on the council aren't always measured in debating and passing agenda items.
"In the late '80s and early '90s, there were plans forming to relocate the international airport. One of the places that they were looking at for the new airport was Vermillion," Hicks said.
Hicks joined the coalition known as S.O.A.R., for Stop Our Airport Relocation, to be a representative of the Hastings City Council.
"Hastings and the surrounding areas would look drastically different, maybe like Bloomington, if that airport had been built. We wouldn't be the community we are today. I am so grateful that I could help block that proposal."
In 2006, Hicks was elected as mayor. Right out of the gate, he had some great projects in mind.
Although he has had a hand in many major projects around Hastings, for him the defining moment in his career as mayor was the construction of the new Hastings bridge over the Mississippi River.
"When I contacted MnDOT, they told me that the bridge wasn't slotted to be worked on until 2018 and probably would get pushed back to 2020," Hicks said.
Not too long after Hicks first contacted the Minnesota Department of Transportation about the previous bridge, known as Ole Blue, the Interstate 35W bridge collapsed and causing more evaluations of the state's bridges, according to Hicks.
The bridge was reprioritized and plans for the new bridge began, Hicks said. Construction of the bridge began in 2010 and wrapped up in 2013.
"Hastings has had a history of unique bridges — with the Spiral Bridge and then Ole Blue. I told MnDOT that I didn't want a cookie cutter bridge," Hicks said. The new bridge is the longest of its kind in North America and Hicks insisted it be lit up at night.
Another major project that Hicks was happy to see completed was the Riverfront Renaissance, a five-year revitalization project of downtown Hastings.
"Every area in our great city is important, but the soul of Hastings is downtown, because that is where it all started," Hicks said in a speech Dec. 12 at a farewell gathering.
Learning at the grocery store
It would be hard to make it through nearly 30 years of service without learning something. For Hicks, one of the biggest lessons was patience — whether it be with people, policy, government process or his own goals.
"Things take time. I am lucky that I have been in office long enough, from City Council to mayor, to have seen most of the projects I've pushed for completed," Hicks said.
As mayor, you have to work with a lot of different people and you hear a lot of different opinions, Hicks said. One place he learned the most about the community was a place he didn't expect, the grocery store.
Trips to the grocery store that should only be 15 minutes turn into hour-long conversations with residents, Hicks said.
"My daughter Danielle refuses to come with me to get milk," Hicks joked.
He added that although there are disagreements, he tries his hardest to turn it into a learning experience.
"Not everyone sees the world as you do. It doesn't work that way," he said. "You don't always agree with everyone, but you learn to appreciate where they are coming from. I learned far more from listening to others than speaking."