The Lord Works in Mysterious Ways

When Miami Beach commissioners interview Norman Hickey for the island's city manager post on Tuesday, they might consider asking the San Diego County administrator whether he's still engrossed in contemplation of the Book of Revelation and the end of the world.

Back in September 1985, when Hickey was in his final year as chief administrator for Hillsborough County, his beliefs were chronicled in an article published in the Tampa Tribune. Some highlights therein:

* In Daytona Beach in 1973, Hickey became preoccupied with the Bible, particularly passages from the Book of Revelation. At one point he claimed to have three visions that prophesied the future by the way light and shadows fell on buildings.

* Eight years later the Hickeys arrived in Tampa, having packed along a year's supply of freeze-dried food they had stockpiled for Armageddon. "The first thing you have to do is survive," Hickey was quoted as saying. "You never know when you have to run for your life."

* During his 1981-86 tenure in Hillsborough County, Hickey, a former combat marine and civilian adviser in Vietnam, kept a "situation room" down the hall from his county office and patterned it after a military command post. Top county officials plotted strategy around a wooden conference table. Behind them was a wall-size county map with flags on pins marking the location of 300 projects.

* Hickey once required his top aides to sign personal loyalty oaths. Some employees complained that their boss ran an increasingly rigid, almost paramilitary, administration.

Hickey refuses to discuss his current religious beliefs or the article by Tribune staff writer Patrice Flinchbaugh, beyond commenting that "it was meant to be a hit piece because we go to church on Sundays. They were inaccurate statements by a non-Christian. I thought the Mafia must have helped her write it." Flinchbaugh, who no longer works for the Tribune, could not be reached for comment.

Late last year, Hickey, who earns an annual salary of $134,000 in San Diego, announced his intention to step down as the county's chief administrator in January 1993. In planning his departure, he privately negotiated a deal with the county board of supervisors that would allow him to continue to serve until 1996 as a consultant. That job, which was to pay only $26 per year, would have given Hickey ten years of service with the county, thus making him fully vested in the pension plan. But the proposed contract, which also contained a lucrative severance package, became public in November, provoking an angry outcry. The board of supervisors never voted on it.

New Times readers with steel-trap memories might remember the name Norman Hickey from May 1988, when the bureaucrat's Armageddon obsession first merited mention in these pages. The occasion? Hickey was one of ten finalists in the search to fill the Dade County manager's post vacated by scandal-embattled Sergio Pereira. Hickey failed to survive that final cut.

These days, besides touting him for the Miami Beach job, Norman Roberts & Associates of Los Angeles has successfully pitched Hickey as one of three finalists for city manager of St. Petersburg, where city councilmembers plan to pick a new administrator in early March.

This coming Tuesday, meanwhile, he is scheduled to be interviewed for the Miami Beach position along with the other five candidates, who include Acting City Manager Carla Talarico and Roger Carlton, executive vice president of Wometco Enterprises. After a day of interviews, city commissioners plan to announce their choice the following day.

His preparations for the Rapture notwithstanding, the 64-year-old Hickey's wish to return to this state, where he began his career in public administration in 1956, seems to be grounded in an unwavering desire to be ready for a more banal future: "I'd like to get back to Florida," he says, "and get back into the Florida Retirement System.


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