Cass County trailblazer: Desire to serve puts Danica Porter into history-making role at Atlanta City Hall

Danica Porter blazed a new trail in Cass County in October 2022 when she became the first woman and first Black person named city manager of Atlanta, Texas. (Photo by Lynn Williams)
Danica Porter blazed a new trail in Cass County in October 2022 when she became the first woman and first Black person named city manager of Atlanta, Texas. (Photo by Lynn Williams)

Avid hikers and outdoorsmen may be familiar with the concept of "breaking trail."

For the rest of us, the phrase refers to the act of taking a lead position and pushing through untrammeled snow along a trail. It is not an easy task.

The phrase also could be applied to other situations in which it would be far easier to walk in the tracks of someone else who has already overcome obstacles.

In Atlanta, Texas, a new trail has been broken thanks to the recent appointment of Danica Porter, Atlanta's first female and first Black city manager.

Danica prefers to go about her business quietly and outside of the spotlight. She admits the sudden newspaper headlines and congratulatory phone calls that followed her appointment created a sense of pressure at first, but she considers it a huge honor to be a pioneer for two minority groups.

"This opportunity means the world to me. I can look at my daughters and other young girls with the same skin color as me and tell them not to believe there are jobs they can't have or goals they can't achieve. If you have a dream, go for it!," Danica said.

The path to becoming city manager was not always smooth, but the very process of overcoming challenges has made Danica who she is today -- a strong and empathetic leader.

Danica was hired as Atlanta's city secretary in 2011, under the supervision of then-City Manager David Cockrell. It was her first job in municipal government, but Danica said she was drawn to the position because of the joy from interacting with the public in previous jobs. The desire to continue helping people and her drive for learning and trying new things made working as city secretary seem like a fun challenge.

After being hired, Danica took an interest in learning more about the processes that make City Hall run smoothly.

"From accounts payable to processing payroll to public meetings and water accounts, I wanted to know how everything connects and just get a feel for all of it," she said. "I like knowing how everything works. I am grateful to have a well-rounded understanding of things because now I am just as comfortable in a city manager meeting as I would be filling in at the front desk to take a water payment."

After approximately five years as city secretary, Danica added finance director to her professional title. Holding multiple positions and working closely with Cockrelll on a variety of projects made her transition to city manager feel natural.

"He was a great mentor," Danica said about the former city manager. "I am thankful for my time with him here. He encouraged me and told me to just be myself as I moved into this new role."

Raised by a dedicated single mother, Danica is familiar with hard work.

"My mom is one of the most inspirational people in my life," she said, smiling. "We have the best relationship! As a single parent with three kids, she did the best she could for us. I think about everything she went through and how strong she was. She showed me what path to take and how to move forward."

Sadly, even a strong loving mother cannot protect her children from everything life may have in store. As a teenager, Danica experienced the trauma of witnessing the death of her older brother, a victim of gun violence.

"That was an experience I would never wish on anyone, but something I have learned is that you have to talk about it. As hard as it is, talking about it is part of the healing process. I've been able to overcome a lot because God has always been at the forefront of my life. I know I am exactly where I am meant to be because He has guided me down this path," Danica said.

Danica recognizes that blazing a new path as a municipal leader will have its moments.

"Being a woman in a position of any kind of authority or leadership role brings its own challenges, but I find that times are slowly but surely changing. Respect and support have to be earned, but I have a great team here in Atlanta. My department heads and (City) Council are all very supportive. We're a team."

Her family is all the motivation Danica needs to keep up with her demanding work-life balance.

"I work a full-time job, take full-time classes, raise my family, never miss a ballgame -- that's what I love to do. My family is my motivation. They are the reason for all I do."

Danica and her family are relocating to Atlanta from Nash, Texas, where she has served on the City Council since 2014. She looks forward to calling Atlanta home one day soon.

"We already have much to offer, but I want to see Atlanta grow and prosper," Danica said. "This is my town, too, now! I want to see young people coming back here. I want to help tell our story so future residents and businesses will want to be a part of our growth."

Danica holds a master's degree in business administration, and she always welcomes learning opportunities.

"I look forward to growing my network of fellow city managers to see what others are doing and listen and learn from what they've gone through," she said.

At heart, Danica loves helping people and serving any community she connects with. She tries to stay relatable and accessible.

"My door is always open, try me!" she said. "I love helping people who come in with a problem. I am here to listen and do my best to understand where others are coming from."

Atlanta's future looks bright and perhaps new trails are waiting to be broken as the city moves ahead under Danica's leadership.

photo Danica Porter blazed a new trail in Cass County in October 2022 when she became the first woman and first Black person named city manager of Atlanta, Texas. (Photo by Lynn Williams)

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