Retired military officer takes command as city administrator
BY SUSIE CURRIE — Hyattsville’s new city administrator is a decorated Army veteran who believes her experience running military bases will have direct applications to running the city.
Col. (Ret.) Tracey Nicholson started her new job on May 14, becoming the city’s third full-time administrator since January 2011. She replaces Jerry Schiro, who started the job almost exactly a year before she did – May 15, 2013 – but left in December, in the middle of his contract.
At its April 21 meeting, the Hyattsville City Council approved Nicholson’s $130,000 annual contract unanimously and with no discussion. Community and Economic Development Director Jim Chandler, who had been filling the role temporarily, will serve as assistant city administrator.
Mayor Marc Tartaro said in an interview that he was “excited to have such a highly qualified candidate.”
“Tracey has a strong background – a little unusual, maybe, but I think she has all the tools and skills to bring a new level of performance and professionalism to the city staff,” he said. “Her demonstrated leadership skills bode well for the city, staff and residents.”
During nearly 30 years in the Army, the Willingboro, N.J., native held a variety of leadership positions on bases from Brooklyn to Baghdad. Her favorite, though, was installation commander, a position that she describes as “uniquely similar” to city administrator.
A military base is “really like a city within a city,” said Nicholson, with its own housing, shopping, health care facilities, recreation centers, police force and public works department.
She managed the Army garrison at Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Michigan, one of the largest multi-service military communities in the U.S. In 2005, she became the first female installation commander of Fort Hamilton Army Base in Brooklyn, N.Y. There, she was responsible for infrastructure and property valued at over $250 million while supporting more than 29,000 soldiers, family members, veterans and retirees.
“I loved installation management – it was by far the thing I enjoyed the most. There’s a sense of satisfaction and pride when you see a community come together.”
A civilian job will be something of a career change for Nicholson. According to the posted job description, the city administrator “provides leadership for the management and execution of policies and objectives set by the City Council,” and supervises all seven department directors. Ultimately, the only city employee not in her chain of command is the city attorney.
“I’ll be walking into something new – very familiar, but new,” said Nicholson in an interview in early May. But she is used to that. In the Army, she said, “we change jobs often, and every job is different. So we have to get up to speed quickly.”
Her military career began in 1982 at Rutgers University, where she joined the ROTC and earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Later came master’s degrees in Strategic Studies (from the U.S. Army War College) and in Administration (from Central Michigan University).
Her long military career, during which she earned a Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal and other military honors, landed her in the Washington, D.C. area four times. Her last job, in fact, was at the Pentagon, where she worked for two years before retiring in August 2012.
And each time she was here, she would spend time in Hyattsville with a friend from childhood, Joy Jeffries. Jeffries has lived across the street from the municipal building since 1997.
The economic and community expansion the city has seen in recent years were all the more dramatic to someone who sometimes spent years between visits.
“I was away from Hyattsville from 2003 to 2009,” said Nicholson. “When I came back, I couldn’t believe how much things had changed – especially in the Arts District. The city really has a small-town feel in an urban setting.”
It impressed her enough, she recalled, to want to live here.
“Whenever I visited, I thought, ‘If I come back to the area [after retirement], I want to look for a home here,’” she said.
For now, though, home will be one of the new apartments on Toledo Terrace while she settles into her new life in Hyattsville and her new role on Gallatin Street.
“I’m grateful to the mayor and council for selecting me, and I look forward to working for them and with them,” she said. “I think [the city] can only get stronger, and I’ll do everything in my power to make that happen.”