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Ripon’s lawyer marks 20 years

Terpstra appointed city attorney in 1993

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POSTED February 9, 2013 1:12 a.m.

Tom Terpstra has often described the last few decades of his professional life as “fun and fast.”

“Time flies,” surmised the principal partner at Tom Terpstra Law Office.

However, it was during a slow-down moment last week that one the Valley’s most recognizable and sought-after attorneys realized just how far he has come.

And how long it’s taken him.

At a luncheon honoring City of Ripon employees and their length of service last week it donned on Terpstra that he was fast-approaching an anniversary of his own.

“You know, I bet you it’s been 20 years,” he thought to himself.

“I had our city clerk Jeanne Hall pull the minutes from Feb. 2, 1993, and there it was at the end: ‘New city attorney Tom Terpstra sworn in.’ ”

The Ripon city council recognized Terpstra for 20 years of service at Tuesday’s meeting. He was 29 – and admittedly green – at the time of his appointment.

“All I remember is that I hoped nobody would ask any questions, because I was brand new and the youngest city attorney in the state at the time,” said Terpstra, now 49. “There was so much I didn’t know. I picked it up pretty quickly and had great people around me.”

Still does.

A fun fact about Terpstra: He’s only the second city attorney Ripon has contracted since 1945, and his tenure is dwarfed by that of his predecessor, the late Rolla Garretson.

Garretson served the city for more than 42 years.

“Twenty years sounds like a long time,” said Terpstra, who, along with wife LaDonna, have three grown children: Whitney, Grant and Tommy. “But compared to him, I’m just getting started.”

Terpstra is part of a golden era in Ripon city leadership.

He has spent the last two decades working alongside City Manager Leon Compton, Deputy City Clerk Lynette Van Laar and Public Works Director Ted Johnston.

Compton is believed to be the longest tenured city administrator in the state with 25 years on the job. Van Laar has been employed by the city for 27 years, 25 of which have been spent as a city clerk.

Compton and Van Laar are set to retire in the next few months.

“We don’t let Tom walk off with our files,” Van Laar said with a hearty laugh, “because they don’t come back. He laughs about that one, too.

“He’ll put them in with the rest of his stuff and pretty soon, we no longer know where it is. We say, ‘You can’t have that.’ ”

Johnston has been with the city the longest. He ascended to the head of the Public Works Department after taking a job in waste management 35 years ago.

“Ripon enjoys tremendous stability on its staff,” Terpstra said. “I’m working with the same city manager, the same city clerk and the same public works director. That kind of stability at the staff level is amazing and invaluable. You can’t replace that kind of institutional knowledge.”

While staff hasn’t changed, Terpstra and city staff area appointed a new set of “bosses” every two years. He has enjoyed the unpredictability and diversity of the city council over the last two decades, and the current class has followed suit.

“I’ve got a new and interesting council with a young member, a retired member, former public employees and private sector employees. We have an interesting mix,” he said.

“It’s all about the people. It’s about interacting. It’s about problem solving. … It’s about representing the council and working with them to help achieve what they want to achieve.”

Terpstra specializes in the areas of land use and environmental law. He was also recently appointed city attorney for Atwater.

“I have a pretty board based practice, that’s for sure,” Terpstra said. “But I like that, it keeps it challenging.”

And fun.

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