Wilkins settling in to new role at Liberty Hill City Hall
By MIKE EDDLEMAN
With more than two decades of experience in public finance and human resources, Becky Wilkins is excited about the opportunity to bring her experience to a growing, yet close-knit community like Liberty Hill.
In her short time, she has pegged what she believes will help Liberty Hill balance growth and the close community feel.
“It is nice to live in a small town but have the conveniences of a big town close enough but not too close,” Wilkins said of her new home and a love of the growing downtown area. “Here we have a variety of things that create charm. (City Hall) is downtown, we’re doing the roundabout, this will maintain the charm of downtown and everything else will happen outside. The decision to preserve the downtown is the key thing to maintaining your identity while allowing the growth.”
City Administrator Greg Boatright announced the new hire in early November and Wilkins has been on the job for just over a month.
She likes what she sees not only in the job itself, but within the community.
“(The city) is in great shape financially,” she said. “You have some good stewards of your taxpayer dollars and they’ve made good decisions along the way. It has been wonderful because it is like a team and a family here. This is the kind of small town I grew up with.”
Wilkins replaces Michel Sorrell, who left the City in September. Boatright is happy to have the position filled again, and excited about what Wilkins brings to the City.
“Out of the six candidates, she had the most experience as a finance director,” he said. “Her background with county and city governments and her tenure with those respective places was impressive and shows stability.”
She most recently served as the City Treasurer/Finance Director for the City of Katy, just west of Houston.
“I feel like after the interview we had with her, her personality and background fit well with our city,” Boatright said. “She is in a very fast-growing area where she is and they’ve issued a lot of debt over her tenure and so she has experience in interfacing with financial advisors and bond councils.”
She knows that while there will be many priorities when it comes to funding and budgeting, that infrastructure is always on the front burner in a fast-growth area.
“You know that you’ve got a certain amount of time to start making infrastructure changes,” she said. “You have to do the infrastructure because if you grow without that there’s always a problem you are having to go back and band-aid. If you know growth is coming you have to go ahead and start planning for it.”
Her career leading to this point began as a workers comp adjuster at Dallas Area Rapid Transit. That led to her first job in county government.
“I kind of just wanted to do something else and I never looked at help wanted ads, but for some reason a bought a paper and was looking and there was this teeny tiny ad looking for someone with work comp experience and HR experience,” she said. “I thought that was me. So I applied and I didn’t really know where it was because it was a blind ad.”
She later found out the job was with Dallas County and was hired, beginning her new career working in local government.
“I did workers comp for Dallas County, which at that time had 5,500 employees,” she said. “I would go to the Sheriff’s Department and do training for their supervisors. I handled all their claims, and branched off into benefits.
“It was very interesting. That’s where I learned that government is working in a box. But it doesn’t have to be A to B to C to get something done. Getting a desk there was an ordeal, but it was all about making the right relationships and finding the right people who could help you.”
She stayed in the Dallas County Human Resources Department for just over four years, also going back to school to finish her degree.
Itching to branch out and avoid being pigeon-holed into certain areas of HR, Wilkins began looking for new opportunities, and soon found herself in the District Clerk’s office.
“A lot of that job had to do with finance,” she said. “It was budgeting and that’s really where I started in government finance.”
That experience taught her a lot about public finance, and also opened her eyes to the possibility of serving in a different way.
“I worked for a really great person and a really great elected official, and after a couple of years I thought, ‘He makes this seem easy to be an elected official and really get things changed’,” she said. “I thought about moving home back where my parents were because they were getting elderly, and I will think about maybe selling real estate or maybe run for office. That’s how I sort of fell into my first and last elected job.”
She ran for Hill County Treasurer, winning election and serving for eight years. When she decided to step away from politics, Wilkins realized she had worked for Dallas County for nine years and served as Treasurer for eight in Hill County, so getting back into the job search was something new again.
A friend pointed her in the direction of a job posting in Katy and soon Wilkins found herself in yet another layer of government finance, this time with a city.
“It was almost the exact same duties I had with the county,” she said. “The hardest part about that job was going into a position someone has been in for 14 years and he was still there. The finance director moved up to City Administrator, and that was probably a difficult transition for he and I both because he was trying to let go but not really.”
While in Katy, Wilkins saw firsthand what could be done in a city focused on managing a tax rate, as Katy grew its reserves – primarily in an effort to be prepared for disasters – and also lowered its tax rate two cents every year for five years.
It wasn’t the job or city that had Wilkins wondering whether the Houston area was where she wanted to be long term, but another annual concern – hurricanes.
“I’ve been through several tornadoes living in Central Texas, but a hurricane is different,” she said. “You just can’t seem to get away from it. You’re stuck in the middle of this rain storm that never stops. The water keeps rising, there’s no food at the grocery store.”
That got Wilkins thinking of a possible change and ultimately Liberty Hill provided the change she said felt right.
Aside from being two and a half hours closer to her hometown of Whitney, Wilkins said being in a smaller community that was on the verge of the growth that Katy has seen over the past two decades was a good fit.
“I thought if there is somewhere else that is gearing up for that growth, I have that experience and maybe I can bring something to the table,” she said. “This reminds me of when I was growing up.”