2009-06-17 / Front Page

"Tenacious" leader takes her leave

By Gwen Sadler

"Tenacious" leader takes her leave

Page Dowdy/Chesterfield Observer Deputy County Administrator Becky Dickson is moving to more rural pastures next month when she assumes the position of county administrator in Goochland County.
After 19 years of working with Chesterfield County, Deputy Administrator Becky Dickson is moving on. She'll soon take the reins as county administrator in Goochland County.

Dickson, who grew up on a horse farm in Midland, a rural town on the outskirts of Warrenton, Va., is returning to a more bucolic area as she moves to Goochland. "I'm in house-hunting mode now," she said. "I might like to have some land, but I'm not sure about horses. My daughter would probably be happy to have horses," she added with a hearty laugh.

Dickson's daughter has figured prominently in her career decisions. Dickson chose to take herself out of the running for Chesterfield County administrator when Lane Ramsey retired from the position in the summer of 2007.

"I hadn't been a deputy county administrator for very long, and there were others who would do a good job," she said. "My daughter was younger then, and the commitment [as administrator] would have been greater. The time has made a big difference. I wasn't ready then; it wasn't my time."

Her tenure in Chesterfield has been productive. She was hired in 1990 by current County Administrator Jay Stegmaier to fill an entrylevel position.

"I didn't know anything about budget then," she said.

But she learned, and made her way up the ranks to become director of the Budget and Management Department, a position she held from 1997 to 2006. Among her accomplishments, she accepted, on behalf of the board of supervisors, the Government Finance Officers Association Distinguished Budget Presentation Award each year she headed the department. Chesterfield is one of just four localities in Virginia to receive this honor for more than 20 consecutive years. She was also among those who prepared an application and site visit that led to the county receiving the U.S. Senate Productivity and Quality Award in 1994 and the Award for Continuing Excellence in 1998 and 2004.

These honors and Dickson's leadership of her department helped the county to maintain its triple A bond rating, which shows those interested in investing in the county that it's a good bet.

Dickson counts Stegmaier and Ramsey among those who've been most influential in her professional life. And she's made her impact on them.

"I know her work ethic," Ramsey said. "She's worked hard over the years to gain the experience, training and expertise to qualify for this position [in Goochland]."

Ramsey, who has served as the interim county administrator in Goochland while county leaders there searched for someone to take on the position permanently, kept himself removed from the hiring process.

"But I saw the work she did studying Goochland County and [its] issues, preparing to sell herself to the board," he said. "It was very impressive. These things point to the tenacious approach she takes to everything she does."

Stegmaier uses similar terms in describing Dickson.

"I've worked with Becky for almost 20 years," he said. "She's been an outstanding employee through that time period. She's one of the most competent, conscientious and tenacious workers I've ever had the pleasure to work with."

With such praise for the job she's doing, no one would blame her for staying in her comfort zone, particularly when she'll take a substantial cut in her salary, from $184,400 per year to $167,000 annually. Both figures include a car allowance and deferred compensation.

"I wouldn't ordinarily want to leave Chesterfield County," she said, "but Goochland is uniquely right for me and, hopefully, vice versa. My ultimate goal has been to be a manager. Goochland needs someone with strategic ability and detail ability, and I have both.

"The decision to leave Chesterfield was a little bittersweet," she added. "It's hard to leave because it's a terrific place to be, but everything has felt right throughout this process."

While the house-hunting may continue for a while, Dickson feels prepared to take the helm in Goochland. She believes the challenges facing Goochland are much the same as those she's been working with in Chesterfield - "some financial audit issues, growth, public facilities - do we or don't we?, serving a diverse citizen base, building relationships [with county supervisors, school board members, constitutional officers and others within county government].

"I'm preparing [for the new job], meeting with board members and school board members and spending time with staff," she said. "The board has been wonderful to work with. I'm getting a lot of information."

Before tackling those challenges, Dickson will take some time for rest and relaxation. Her last day in Chesterfield will be June 22, and her first day on the new job will be July 20.

"I'm hoping this job will be for life, so I better take some downtime before I begin," she said.

"I'm sorry to see her go," said Stegmaier. "She has accomplished a lot while she's been here. She will be leaving some shoes that will be hard to fill. I'm confident that the people of Goochland will find her an outstanding leader."

Ramsey, who has gotten to know the Goochland community, said, "I'm very proud that someone who worked in Chesterfield County and was so interested in becoming a manager has succeeded in a community that's very good to work in."

"I'm grateful for my time and experiences in Chesterfield County," Dickson said, "and I'm looking forward to new challenges. I've been given many good opportunities and experiences here to take with me."

That's not all she'll take with her. Those who work for the county for 25 years get a brick with their name on it in front of the 1917 courthouse. Dickson was disappointed at falling several years short of the mark.

"People have been bringing me handpainted bricks," she said. "I got a beautiful acrylic brick the other day. I'm going to take all my bricks with me."

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