Submitted by Erin Gillespie
Press Secretary for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
If you’ve ever driven through Lafayette County, you no doubt realized you were in the heart of farming country. Agriculture is a way of life for the people who live there, so it isn’t surprising to learn that three top administrators at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) in Tallahassee all lay claim to growing up in the town of Mayo.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, there were 8,870 people living in Lafayette County with an estimated 1,000 people living in the town of Mayo proper. In contrast, Tallahassee in Leon County, where our state capitol is located, had over 275,000 residents in 2010.
FDACS Budget Director Derek Buchanan, Assistant Director of Administration Darica Smith, and Chief of Personnel Management Joey Hicks all migrated from the small town of Mayo to life in the big city of Tallahassee. All three of them seem content with their new lifestyle, but still hold their hometown in the highest regard.
Joey Hicks was born and raised in Mayo and graduated from Lafayette High School. He attended Mississippi College in Clinton, Miss. for two years where he played baseball and majored in Communications. He transferred to Florida State University (FSU) and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in International Affairs.
During his days at FSU, Hicks landed a part-time job at the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) as a personnel file clerk. When he graduated in 2004, FDOE offered him a job as Operations and Management Consultant in the Bureau of Personnel. He worked there for eight years in several capacities within the personnel department and ultimately became Assistant Chief.
In June, 2012, he went to work for FDACS as Chief of Personnel Management. Over the past 18 months, Hicks was tasked with a major streamlining effort for recruitment and selection, overseeing a state rule change for the benefit of firefighters, promoting the department’s post-tax benefits, implementing the state’s new performance management system, as well as running the day to day operations of a personnel staff of nearly 4,000 employees.
Hicks and his wife of seven years, Erica, have two children, Jonah, age 5 and Madeleine, age 1.
While Hicks was working part-time at FDOE, he thought it would give him two things: income to pay the rent while a full-time student and experience in a professional workplace that might help him in the future.
“Little did I know that this minimum wage job would turn into a successful and fulfilling career in personnel management,” said Hicks. “Believe it or not, a fellow Mayo native, Hal Thomas, was the Director of Personnel at the time and he gave me a small piece of advice that has paid tremendous dividends. He told me to take the blue collar work ethic that was instilled in me from my parents (Mike and Joyce) and brother (Jason) and to use it in a white collar facility. This simple approach continues to be a big part of my personal approach.”
Hicks continued, “While Mayo is a small town where everyone seems to, or in many cases literally knows everyone, I have never felt much different in Tallahassee. Government officials, legislators and scholars are a major part of the community, yet there is still a feeling of blue collar workers throughout the workforce and that gives me the hometown comfort.”
“Sure, there are a few more red lights and more options for entertainment and dining, but there has always been a family atmosphere here,” Hicks said. “That is especially true in FDACS. The relationships that I have been fortunate to build here have been wonderful. I recall my first week with the department in June, 2012 when the Director of Licensing, Grea Bevis, came to my office to welcome me. He shook my hand and said, “Welcome to the department. You are never going to want to leave.” That message has been repeated from all across the department and I believe that speaks volumes to the quality of employment here,” Hicks added.
Derek Buchanan is the son of Alton and Joyce Buchanan of Mayo. He joined FDACS in 2008 and has served in several roles for the department, including his current role as Director of the Office of Policy and Budget.
Buchanan is responsible for crafting the department’s annual legislative budget request and managing a $1.5 billion budget. He holds a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in accounting from FSU. He has also been a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) since 2005, and achieved the Certified Public Manager (CPM) designation in 2012. He is married to his wife Katie,who is a native of Madison, and they have two daughters, Riley, age 3, and Avery, age 2.
“After graduating from LHS, I enrolled in FSU where I obtained undergraduate and graduate degrees in accounting,” said Buchanan. “My first job after college was with the Florida Auditor General and I worked on public school district audits, including Leon, Wakulla, and Taylor counties. After spending five years on the road with the Florida Auditor General, my wife Katie and I wanted to start a family. Darica Smith was kind enough to put in a good word for me with the folks at FDACS, and I moved into a position in the finance and accounting section of the department.”
“Five years and two kids later, I could not ask for a better place to work,” Buchanan went on. “Since I started with the department, I’ve had the opportunity to hold a number of positions, including my current position as the Director of the Office of Policy and Budget. Every step along the way I feel blessed to be surrounded by kind and hardworking individuals. It’s an added bonus that some of those folks I’ve known my entire life.”
“I have very fond memories of Mayo,” Buchanan continued. “Growing up in such a small community made me appreciate the value of hard work, integrity and kindness. I learned at a very young age that Mayo is full of people that are willing to help their neighbors at a moment’s notice, and I try to be just as helpful to the people I meet. Given that Tallahassee is a great place to live and work, and filled with people that have values similar to my own, I find that my life now is not much different than my life in Mayo, short of a couple of crazy kids and a little more traffic.”
Darica Smith serves as Assistant Director of Administration for FDACS. Her service for the department began as a part-time position 14 years ago in the personnel office when she was attending FSU. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Business Management, she accepted a full-time position with the department as a senior clerk.
Over the next 12 years, she served in many different capacities, including Executive Office Manager, Deputy Legislative Affairs Director, Chief of Personnel, and in April, 2012, she became the Assistant Director of Administration.
Throughout her career, she had the opportunity to manage many great programs and work with wonderful leadership and fellow employees. Currently, Smith is responsible for managing the operational functions of the department, which range from personnel management, employee training, fiscal, management, procurement, facilities and contract management.
Smith was born and raised in Mayo and now lives in Tallahassee with her husband Clark Smith and their dog Willie.
“Mayo reminds me of breakfast,” said Smith. “It's simple, cooked by someone you love (in my case, it was my mom for 19 years while I lived at home - no joke) and the most important meal of your day. Like breakfast, Mayo is simple - we have one red light. Our formal education came from people who we grew up going to church with and who loved us. Our values were taught to us by our parents, their friends and our teachers, who all prepared us for life and to be successful.”
Smith said, “Sure, it is easy to get caught up on the current crisis of the day, so we are fortunate to work for Commissioner Adam Putnam, who truly cares about his employees, wants us to succeed and has high expectations. I have always been fortunate to work for people who have encouraged me to think beyond the position that I am in and never forget who I am and where I come from.”
“There is a clock that sits on my desk that was given to me by my mentor that reads, Always Mayo,” Smith added. “This clock, like Mayo, reminds me to be small, but mighty, lead with character and keep it simple. I am proud to be from a small town and enjoy working for an industry and a department that appreciates the values I was taught back home.”
In closing, Smith said, “Tallahassee has a lot of one-way streets, a few more red lights, universities and restaurants. The people are friendly, but you get a lot less waves when passing people in traffic. It’s still a great place to live, to make new friends and hang out with old ones.”
Reporter Joyce Marie Taylor contributed to this story.