Bushnell mourns loss of city manager

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By Brenda Locklear

Things were somber around Bushnell City Hall on Monday - it's when city staff and community members either learned or confirmed that City Manager Bruce Hickle, 67, died over the weekend.

Hickle stepped into the city manager position in August 2013, after a decade as the city's utilities director. 

"March 3 would have been his 15-year anniversary," with the city, said city Human Resources Director Kelly Marcoux.

Finance Director Jody Young has 10 years in at the city.  Because of working with city finances, she worked closely with Hickle and was emotional when she spoke about him on Monday.

"It's kind of hard to talk about right now. He was definitely a leader and someone that I considered a mentor. Someone that I looked up to and had a great deal of respect for.

"Bruce was a person that was really, really good at keeping a level head," no matter what was going on," said Young.

She said one of the key things she learned from him was that "sometimes you have to keep your emotions and reaction outs of things. 

"I just have a lot of respect for him."

"He didn't micromanage. He had a way of getting us to take ownership," she said, adding that he had a kind of steady presence, with the comfort that if they needed him, he was there.

Young said she thinks that "goes a long way for building people's confidence in their job - when you know someone believes in you and they trust you with the things that need to be done."

Young started at the city as an accountants payable clerk under the late Joy Coleman and was feeling the loss of  the second person she considered a mentor at the city.

"I'm sorry, it's just hitting me," she said with emotion, noting that Monday was a tough day.

While there hasn't been any confirmation on how Hickle died, he was out all last week with a flu-like stomach virus and an upper respiratory illness before that, according to Marcoux.

She said he had actually seemed to improve a little on Friday, but instead of getting better, Hickle died overnight, between Friday and Saturday.

There is no service planned.

Hickle replaced Vince Ruano in the city manager position. Ruano had spent more than 30 years in the position and was close to city staff. But  Hickle,  "was a good replacement for Vince, we all worked really well together, as a team," Marcoux said, adding that Hickle was team-goal oriented.

"He is going to be missed tremendously," Marcoux said.

He was a "very low key person - quiet and steady. He sat back and analyzed things. He listened to people, he had an open mind."

She said while he might not always agree, he would always listen.

What few people knew was that Hickle was not only an electrical engineer, but a nuclear engineer as well, according to Marcoux, who said he was supposed to be one of very few people who didn't earn the degree in the United States Navy.

By the time he went to work for Bushnell, he had already worked in various positions in a nuclear power plant, including plant manager. 

For Bushnell residents and downtown business owners, Hickle had a notable impact with a change he made at utilities.

"Years ago, all the squirrels would blow the lines," said Marcoux of the city's power lines. The squirrels would run the lines and short out the power in areas of Bushnell.

But when Hickle came on as utilities director, he put new processes in place and new wires, putting an end the frequent outages.

He was the upfront contact for the city during a recent battle with SECO over electric customers.

Before Bushnell, Hickle worked at Florida Power and Light, until they merged with another electric company.

Hickle had a home in Lake Panasoffkee and in Crystal River, but notes that his main place of residence is at the lake.

"It's pretty devastating," said Bushnell Mayor Bil Spaude.

"Bruce was good to work with and good to work for. He did a good job for the city," Spaude said.