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Leading Lady

Sep 25, 2015 03:04PM ● Published by Dia

By Audrey Sellers

Laura Hill is afraid that her three kids will think: “All Mom did was sit on the sofa all day.” It seems like an irrational fear coming from someone who just made history as Southlake’s first woman mayor. She’s been a civic leader for more than a decade, and she’s also a successful businesswoman; Hill is the co-owner of Downey Publishing and Texas Ice Cream. She has racked up numerous accolades, including her most recent achievement: the Dallas Business Journal’s Women in Business Award.

Hill has hardly been laying low in her living room. And now, only a few months into her term as mayor, she’s focusing on creating the very best version of Southlake. 

Southlake Meets Its Mayor

Though she has learned much from the city’s previous mayors, she’s not particularly concerned about how they did things. “It’s kind of like there’s a new sher- iff in town. That’s how I feel,” Hill says. “I don’t ever ask how we’ve done it in the past. I always say, ‘Here’s how I think that would work better. Am I missing something?’”

It all starts with sparking a conversation. Improving communication is one of Hill’s major goals for Southlake. “We have to keep up with the way citi- zens are getting information,” she says.

This means moving away from over-communicat- ing with e-mails and robocalls and transitioning into a more tech-savvy era. “We have great companies in this town with technology as their strong point. Why not partner with those companies?” says Hill. “I want to take communication to a new level.”

Hill is already off to a good start. She has amassed thousands of followers on Facebook (Facebook.com/ LauraHillForSouthlake), Twitter (@laurakhill0404) and Instagram (@laurahill0404). And in case you’re wondering, she writes all her own posts.

“I’m the first social media mayor in Southlake, so I have an obligation to communicate on a level that other mayors probably never experienced,” she says. 

And that’s okay with her. She embraces the learn- ing curve. “I have to continue doing my homework and communicating as best I can so that people understand not just what my goals are, but that I’m listening to them,” Hill says.

In her first few months in office, she’s done plenty of listening – sometimes about topics that catch her off guard. “People think I’m a lot more knowl-edgeable about life just because I’m the mayor,” she laughs. “I’m surprised at some of the issues people want to discuss with me.”

It’s a testament to how much the community trusts its new mayor. Hill recog- nizes that citizens have high hopes for her, but she doesn’t feel like she’s accomplished any impressive feat.

“I feel like a lot is expected of me as the first woman mayor,” she says. “But Southlake has always been open to great leadership. I don’t think be- ing a woman mattered at all.”

The fact that she’s a woman (and a mom) has actually led to some fun community engagements
that past mayors didn’t get to enjoy. Hill reads to toddlers at the library and finds herself “doing a lot of mom stuff,” as she puts it. 

Her kids, Maggie, Preston and Trent, are grown now, but she still has a heart for helping youth. Hill founded Students and Parents Against Risks to our Kids (SPARK) in 2007, and in 2011, she co-founded Students and Athletes Serving Others (SASO). SPARK is a support organization aimed at helping kids and parents “spark” conversations about difficult issues kids may be facing, and SASO offers philanthropic opportunities for parents and their high school-age children.

Hill’s latest endeavor is Southlake Kids Interested in Leadership (SKIL), which kicks off this fall. “We’re going to combine smart businesspeople and city staff with smart youth, and bring these people to the table to solve an issue,” she says. “What I love about SKIL is that people can participate in solving a problem.”

Growing Pains

One of those problems is undoubtedly traffic. Southlake is growing, and with the growth comes some of the worst traffic congestion the city has ever experienced. Many roads are so clogged with cars that residents can barely get out of their neighborhoods. Southlake today is much different than how long-time residents – including Hill – remember it.

“My dad is 84 and he’s upset that people like me came here in the 1990s and built on one acre. It used to be two acres,” Hill says. “But if you looked on a map, you knew what was going to happen. The secret wasn’t going to stay a secret.”

Southlake is situated between two of the country’s fastest-growing cities: Dallas at No. 3 and Ft. Worth at No. 8, according to Forbes. And it’s just minutes from Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport, the fourth busiest in the United States, and the eighth busiest in the world.

Throw in a bustling retail scene and a world-class school district that has united the en- tire city under the Dragon name, and it’s easy to see why so many people want their own slice of Southlake. 

“There are people who come here from other countries and they could have lived anywhere,” she says. “We have this incredible quality of life here.” Though you might feel a slight sense of resentment at the influx of people moving to Southlake (more people means more traffic), Hill appreciates the new residents. “They know what they have here doesn’t exist in other places,” she says. “When I hear people complain about something, I just say, ‘This is the greatest place to raise a family.’ I can’t believe I’ve ended up in a town like this.”

And when you consider Southlake’s growth, keep in mind that much of it comes from citizens investing in the community. Hill built and owns the Downey Publishing building, which is where she runs her business with her father, producing small, rural telephone directories for more than 14,000 customers. Nearby business owners live in Southlake and own their buildings as well.

Even though much of the growth is homegrown, Hill is aware that the majority of residents don’t want Southlake to grow. “In a perfect world, we could say, ‘Stop. No more,’” she says. “But we cannot stop. It’s not the American way.”

Instead of halting development, Hill is focused on creating the right kind of growth for Southlake – especially when it comes to 114. “We know what we don’t want 114 looking like, so we have to fight hard to get it looking the way Southlake envisioned it to be,” she says. “We have to consider what has already happened in the city and develop in a way that fits.” 

A Community to Call Home

Hill is committed to finishing out Southlake’s development keeping in mind what she and so many others value about the city: its home- town feel and unparalleled sense of community. “That’s what makes us special,” she says. “We’re all Dragons.” 

Even though she no longer has kids in the school district, Hill is staying put – and so are many other residents. “There are many people like me who raised our children here and don’t intend on leaving,” she says. “I’ve lived in my house for 20 years and I’ll be in my house 20 more years.”

Southlake is home. That’s why Hill has been so invested in her community, long before she became mayor. “My interest was always in city stuff and elections. I just kept getting more and more involved,” she says. “For me, it’s a privilege to give back.”

But she doesn’t want anyone to be impressed with her. She gives the credit to her family and staff. “I have great people around me. I always have,” says Hill.

She helps her husband, Joe, with the admin side of his business, Texas Ice Cream, which he started five years ago as a change of pace from corporate America. She also embraces the domestic side of life. Hill doesn’t have a housekeeper and enjoys keeping her house immaculate on her own.

As for hobbies, Hill doesn’t really have any. She much prefers a cozy spot on the couch. Sometimes, all she wants to do is sit – despite what her kids might think. 

Highlights on Mayor Hill

Chairman of the Board of Directors of ADP (National Association
of Directory Publishers)

Founder and Executor of Downey Art for Education Trust, which has awarded more than $700,000 to rural schools in Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma

Advisory Board and Past Board Chair, Recovery Resource Council
of Tarrant County

Advisory Board Member, Texas State Dyslexia Licensing Committee

Executive Board, Board of Directors Southlake Chamber of Commerce

CISD Class graduate

City of Southlake Citizens Academy graduate

Southlake CERT
(Citizens Emergency Response Team) graduate

Lifetime Member, Southlake Historical Society

Legacy of Women Award, Safe Haven of Tarrant County

Carroll ISD Shankman Award for service to children

Citizen of the Year, Southlake Chamber of Commerce

L.I.N.K. (Leadership, Inspiration, Nurturing and Kindness) Award, Metroport Meals on Wheels 

In Print, City+School

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