Brevard Government’s leadership trio of Dana Blickley, Lisa Cullen and Lori Scott proves that commitment and friendship can go a long way in public service.
By Michael Candelaria
Dana Blickley, Lisa Cullen and Lori Scott can fairly be described as lifers in their roles.
Blickley was first elected as Brevard County Property Appraiser in November 2012 — following more than 20 years at that office. She began working there as a college student.
Cullen began her career of public service in 1985, where she remains today as Brevard County Tax Collector. Starting at the front counter in a branch office, she moved up the ranks, ultimately ascending to the top spot with her 2008 election.
Meanwhile, Scott’s path to county Supervisor of Elections was less direct but similarly lengthy. At 24, Scott answered a blind newspaper ad for an office job, which wound up being for a senator. She then worked for and with the Florida Legislature for 17 years before winning her own election in 2008.
Clearly, “women in government leadership” is not headline material, not nationally or across Brevard, where gender lines in the sand faded years ago. Roughly half of all elected officials in the county are women. Yet, for this trio, their stories of commitment to serve, in the form of professional grit and personal sacrifice, indeed are worthy. Then add, for good measure, uncommon synergy created by virtue of actual, genuine friendships.
In other words, they stand tall as well as together, which has turned out to be a very good thing for the county.
All Is Possible
Blickley’s rise to Property Appraiser “was a pretty natural progression,” not necessarily because she was special, but because years were spent completing virtually every task in the office. “Work” also included attending Eastern Florida State College (then Brevard Community College) and the University of Central Florida. As a result, in addition to bachelor’s and master’s degrees in public administration, Blickley possesses widespread hands-on experience.
Love for the job was her overriding motivation. “I didn’t necessarily want to be an elected official,” she said. “I wanted to be the property appraiser, and the only way to do that was to run.”
She beat out 24-year incumbent Jim Ford and was re-elected in 2016.
The daughter of a Marine, she continually pushed forward. “There was never any thought of quitting, only working and outworking my opponent as hard as I possibly could,” recounted Blickley, who raised two college graduates, both from UCF.
For the record, Blickley has a similar message to young people, particularly for girls: Make it happen for yourself.
Gender, she affirmed, is not an issue. “All possibilities are based on the amount of effort you’re willing to put in,” she says, noting that outreach to schools and organizations is part of her job description.
Locally, she added, the current setting for success does not hurt, citing, “a very robust environment for women to be involved in public policy in Brevard County.”
“Whatever Needed To Be Done”
In 2016, when Cullen won the Brevard County Tourist Development Council’s annual award for excellence, an exclamation point was placed on an unlikely career that has seen her become Brevard’s first female tax collector.
“It’s been a long journey, but one I’ve enjoyed greatly. I love what I do now.”
– Lisa Cullen
“I didn’t necessarily want to be an elected official. I wanted to be the property appraiser, and the only way to do that was to run.” – Dana Blickley
Cullen mirrored Blickley’s BCC/UCF from-the-ground-up education track (receiving an accounting/finance degree). Not coincidentally, their paths crossed early and a bond formed. Initially, Cullen’s job represented college-study convenience — work by day and school at night. Eventually, though, that job became a labor of love.
“It’s been a long journey, but one I’ve enjoyed greatly. I love what I do now,” said Cullen, who was reelected in 2012 and 2016 without opposition.
In particular, Cullen was drawn to numbers and trends, or as she calls it, “the financial part of it all.” Through the years, that attraction enabled her to do “whatever needed to be done.” Additionally, she simply wanted to help people — to protect them in rocky situations like bankruptcies and property splits.
“I really feel strongly about someone’s property rights,” she asserted.
Cullen also is intent on being a leader, both at home and in her career. Referring to her two daughters, including a high schooler, she explained, “My mother raised a strong woman, and I wanted to do that for them.”
In her career, leadership is “my job; what I’m supposed to do,” she commented. Visiting a middle-school civics class, she once brought in the tennis shoes worn during her election campaign to literally show the wear and tear required for success.
Not that she is perfect. Cullen admits to being a “perfectionist” who continues to learn to “temper that with a good balance in life.” Cullen said progress is being made then added, “but when it comes to me relying on myself to do something, it will get done.”
Working Your Passion
Seeking an office job those many years ago, Scott thought she had dialed the wrong number from that newspaper ad. Instead, she landed her first legislative job and found her professional passion: state government work.
“I absolutely loved it, just got bit with that bug,” said Scott. “I often speak about working your passion. I was very fortunate to fall into mine. … Sometimes you just don’t know where it’s going to find you.”
During 17 years, she worked for three senators and two representatives, developing expertise in constituent services and an understanding of Florida’s legislative process — even without the benefit of a college degree plus typically making nightly five-hour commutes home from Tallahassee. In her last post before becoming Brevard’s Supervisor of Elections, she was legislative chief for Florida Sen. Mike Haridopolos.
Scott remembers her thinking at that time. The end to another legislative session in June had arrived, and she had full intention of returning to the job in the fall. Days later, she changed her mind. With the election supervisor’s seat being vacated, she decided to run. A single parent, she had quit that legislative position (per regulations) to seek election and, in characteristic style, she pursued the open seat with passion. Like Cullen, she was reelected in 2012 and 2016 without opposition.
“Voters understand that [passion],” said Scott, a graduate of Eau Gallie High School in Melbourne. “They can see it and sense it. People want to believe in their public officials, and I think that comes across through the passion.”
Scott also is moved by another form of passion: friendship. She goes as far as labeling her relationships with Blickley and Cullen, among others, as “amazing.”
“I feel so incredibly blessed to not only have them as fellow elected officers, but as personal friends,” Scott said.
Given the inherent pressures of the political arena, the statement is telling. And perhaps it explains the scene that uniquely surrounds the Brevard County Government these days. Leaders are getting along; Blickley, Cullen and Scott are shining examples.
“We’re very supportive of each other,” Cullen concluded. “What we have is a true desire to serve Brevard in the best way possible. And we’re going to work together to do that.”
“I often speak about working your passion. I was very fortunate to fall into mine. … Sometimes you just don’t know where it’s going to find you.” – Lori Scott