Having already spent five months as the interim city administrator, it was a conversation with his wife, Sherri, that convinced Joe Patterson to take the permanent job offered to him by then-mayor Rick Sheehy.
Patterson, who had served as parks and recreation director since September 1980, became interim city administrator on March 2, 2001 following the departure of former city administrator Barbara Bramblett. Later that summer Sherri asked Patterson, while he was in their backyard gardening, if he’d decided on the permanent position job offer he’d received three weeks prior. He hadn’t.
“She said ‘I know you well enough to know if you don’t try it you’ll always wished you had’ and turned around and walked back in the house,” he said during a recent interview. “I thought ‘Ok, it must be a sign.’ ”
Patterson accepted the offer and became the permanent city administrator on Aug. 13, 2001.
Patterson, 65, retire Friday, May 10th after nearly 39 years with the city.
“I love the job,” he said. “Yeah, it’s challenging. But it’s not overwhelming.”
Throughout his time as city administrator Patterson has encouraged the input and contributions of staff.
That open approach fits his personality.
“Whatever your management style is it has to fit who you are because one of the things I really wanted to guard against in this job, this is not who I am it’s what I do,” he said.
He sees his role as city administrator to be the conduit between elected officials and the professional staff.
“I wouldn’t say to protect them but to make sure elected officials understand why staff make the decisions they make,” he said
Staff are driven by what the city code says, he said. Elected officials decide what the code says.
Patterson came to Hastings for the parks and recreation director position from his native Topeka, Kansas.
Being parks and recreation director is the best job in town, he said.
“It’s something that almost everything you do is perceived as positive because people enjoy using parks and public facilities,” he said.
Moving to Hastings with Sherri and their two young children, Josh and Lyndsay, wasn’t an easy transition.
“I like the feeling of community you get — when you’ve been here a while,” he said. “I don’t think Hastings is an easy town to break into. When we moved here we found it hard. You have to reach out in Hastings, Hastings doesn’t reach out to you.”
For Patterson, he found a built-in fraternity with a local bass fishing club and working as a sports official.
Things were initially a little harder for Sherri. However, she became just as ingrained in the community as him.
She has served on multiple board and committees and helped organize the Hastings Area Chamber of Commerce’s variety show.
“My wife is as connected in the community as anybody I know as far as serving on committees and boards,” Patterson said.
Joe Patterson is pictured at the Smith Softball Complex in October 2010.
The couple will remain in Hastings and Sherri will continue to work as an owner and agent with the Real Estate Group of Hastings.
Lyndsay, her husband Troy, and their two children live in Hastings.
“If I told Sherri I wanted to move away she would say ‘I’m going to miss ya,’ ” he said.
They fell in love with Hastings because the community offers so much to its citizens.
At some point in time they stopped looking for employment opportunities elsewhere.
“This community has been extremely supportive of me and my family through the good times and in the hard times,” he said.
In retirement Patterson will increase his involvement as commissioner for USA Softball of Nebraska, a position he has held since 1998.
“Of course if that benefits the statewide program, my time, it will benefit Hastings because of all the tournaments and events we hold here,” he said. “I’m very proud of our relationship with Nebraska softball. It’s certainly been a very tangible benefit to this Hastings community and to our citizens because we get to use facilities that we actually don’t own but we treat them like we own them. Win-win is an over-used term but certainly in the case of our relationship with USA Softball-Nebraska both entities are winners.”
In his expanded role, Patterson will travel the state and region to promote softball and make it stronger. He is also the vice president for the Mid-America Region, which includes Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri and Colorado.
In Kansas, Patterson played softball at a fairly high level and served on the Kansas state softball organization board as a commissioner.
It was in the early 1980s that former Nebraska state softball commissioner Bill Smith asked Patterson to serve on the Nebraska state board.
Patterson had always been involved in helping manage softball. He was a league director in Topeka and later supervisor of athletics and aquatics.
“The game changer was when the softball association said we’ve got money and we can’t give it away quick enough because they were selling pickle cards like they were going out of style, and we want to build our own complex,” he said. “Then I got really interested because we had an acute shortage of fields in Hastings. We needed more ball fields and I didn’t see the funding of more ball fields on the horizon of the city budget.”
Ground breaking ceremonies for the Smith Softball Complex were held on land on the north edge of Hastings that had been owned by the Hastings Economic Development Corporation on May 17, 1994. The complex opened on July 11, 1995.
“Softball’s been good for this community as well as good for me,” he said.
In his role as state commissioner, not only will Patterson travel but he will spend more time than he does now at the state office located within the Smith Softball Complex grounds.
“I’m extremely fortunate that I’ve got one of the best office managers for softball in the United States,” he said, referring to Teresa Podany.
Patterson leaves the city of Hastings in a very strong financial position.
During Patterson’s time as city administrator, the city’s indebtedness has been reduced from about $17 million to $2.325 million — which was the total on Sept. 30, 2018 — the close of the last fiscal year.The city benefited from low interest rates, which allowed Hastings to refinance bond issues. Also, the council and the mayor were steadfast in assessing paving projects to home owners, which minimized the city’s general obligation debt.
“That’s not easy because if you’re going to build a street in front of somebody’s house who never paid an assessment, they don’t want to pay an assessment now,” he said. “Through a little more discipline in assessing, and the types of projects we were doing could be assessed, and the interest rates falling we were able to take less and less tax levy to pay the debt as we paid it off. It’s not me, it’s the discipline of the mayor and council and interest rates getting low that really helped.”
Throughout his time as city administrator, Patterson has found himself surrounded by supportive elected officials.
“I haven’t really run into a bad council,” he said.
He will be succeeded by current city attorney Dave Ptak, who has worked for the city of Hastings since November 2013.
“He’ll be a great transition for however long he does it to whomever would be next,” Patterson said. “I’m very impressed with Dave. I hope he stays with it. He’s a little older than me but he acts younger. He’s made his home in Hastings now. I wish him nothing but the best.”