By: Kevin Griffin - Hickory Daily Record
After 10 years as assistant city manager, Andrea Surratt is leaving the City of Hickory to take on a new "adventure" as the city manager of Bozeman, Montana.
The move is the latest "adventure" in what Surratt described at her last city council meeting as her "calling" to service in local government.
Surratt said she has long had an interest in political science, and her first experience came when she was working in the city hall of her hometown of Wingate one summer while she was in college.
During that time, Surratt said she met an employee of the metropolitan planning organization who was administering a Community Development Block Grant. The man would take Surratt on tours of the houses being rehabilitated.
Surratt said she liked the way the work involved "improving the community," and it prompted her to look more into the Surratt, who graduated from Guilford College with a bachelor's degree in political science and Clemson University with a Master of City and Regional Planning, took her first position in local government as a planner in Nixa, Mo.
Before coming to Hickory, Surratt spent time working in the governments of Wilmington, Wrightsville Beach and Moore County.
Surratt said part of the reason she decided to come to Hickory was her desire to return to city government working at Moore County.
Another draw was the community itself. "And I was looking for a community with a lot to offer - the arts, good schools, safe place to live, nice community to raise a family," Surratt said. At that time, Surratt's daughter Claire was 11 and her son Allen was 8.
Mitzi Gellman, the executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Catawba Valley and a member of the committee that interviewed candidates for the open city manager position, said in a phone interview Surratt stood out from the other candidates. "I mean of the candidates who we interviewed, she had ideas that were beyond anyone else that presented to us with how to make a community better," Gellman. "You could tell that it was a passion for her, not just a career, not just a job."
City Manager Warren Wood, who served on the interview committee, said in a phone interview that Surratt's analytical skills and her ability to collaborate with people and organizations have been among her greatest strengths in the role.
At the time she started, there had been a "burst of economic success" in the mid-2000s before the recession took a toll on the area, Surratt said.
"It was a number of years of just wondering, how are we going to keep the basic functions in operation, and not being able to be very creative, but there were still some interesting projects," Surratt said.
Not long after Surratt started, the city began to embark in a more creative direction with initiatives like way findingand the Inspiring Spaces Committee, which would eventually lead to the projects approved in the 2014 bond referendum.
Meg Jenkins Locke, who was on the Inspiring Spaces Committee, said in a phone interview she will remember Surratt for her "clear-sighted vision, her ability to lead us through a process in a systematic way that I believe led to a guideline or a guidebook for Boost Hickory, for the city council members and for the mayor to follow." Surratt was able to effectively advise the committee by bringing in her planning background, Locke said. Though Surratt is leaving, "her spirit will be here and her footprint will be here for generations to come" because of her role in those projects, Locke said.
In particular, Surratt is proud of the role she "had a hand in guiding the design" of projects like the city walk and riverwalk in a way that would make them destinations that could result in economic development.
Over the last year, Surratt took on a great deal of additional responsibility when City Manager Mick Berry left to become Catawba County manager in 2016.
In addition to ensuring that every-day functions of the city were taken care of, Surratt and the city staff also were working to make progress on the bond projects. "I'm not sure, other than just my passion for Hickory, what carried me through," Surratt. "You know, when you're faced with challenges, you dig deep and do it, and I was happy I could serve."
Surratt said she had not been looking for another job when she became aware of the opening in Bozeman. "The opportunity came across my desk and I just had a sense about it," Surratt said.
After it was announced at a Hickory City Council meeting she would be leaving, Surratt said one of the things that appealed to her about the Bozeman job is they were looking for a "manager who is a planner."
"I was never satisfied to do the planning and then stop there," Surratt said. "I needed to, I wanted to see some things through in my jobs in the past, and so being in the manager's office allows me to have a greater influence over what gets built and how and that was important to me."
Though she said she was a candidate for the open city manager position, Surratt said she understands why Warren Wood was chosen and believes he is the right person for the job.
"But I feel like that this particular job and that particular location of Montana, was something that I was just was ready for and not willing to pass up," Surratt said. "It just might not ever come around again, and I've got some years left to work, and I wanted to do something new and different, and that's what happened."
Still, Surratt said Hickory will always remain a special place for her, and that she plans to visit to see the progress on the bond projects.
"I love this organization," Surratt said. "It's been my favorite community to work in. City council and the elected officials have been outstanding and it'll be very difficult to leave, but I feel like it's where I'm supposed to go."
NOTE: Andrea Surratt was Downtown Hickory's city liaison. Ms. Surratt will be greatly missed.