Working as a city clerk wasn’t even a remote desire of Joann Tilton when she graduated from Manteca High in 1979.
The spring of her senior year as a Buffalo Tilton couldn’t figure out why classmates were making a big deal about being selected for the Youth in Government Day to serve as mock city council members and department heads.
“No kid back then said, ‘hey, I want to be a city clerk when I grow up’,” Tilton said.
Tilton on Friday ends a 35-year career as a City of Manteca employee including the last 32 years as city clerk.
When she first was appointed to fill the unexpired term of Karen Matthews after working three years as the planning department secretary, she had no inkling that she’d be spending the next three decades plus as city clerk.
But she did catch on early what “the big deal” was that eluded her in high school.
“Local, government is the level of government that is closest to people,” Tilton said. “As such it has the most effect on people.”
Some believe a city clerk simply takes council minutes. While keeping the official record — right down to 902 ordinances and 10,944 resolutions as well as minutes of more than 1,200 meetings— was a vital part of her job for the past 32 years it isn’t the only thing by far.
Among the other duties were serving as the elections official, city council support services, public inquiries and relationships, record and archives, political reform filing officer, and serving as the local legislation auditor. She also served as the “go to” person when departments needed to find out about the official city record in addition to preparing agendas and council packets.
And while all aspects of her job are important, she believes serving as a liaison between the public and their elected council was perhaps the most important.
That includes helping citizens secure information from city documents to answer their questions or to make their case.
Essentially, city clerks like Tilton help citizens find their voice.
While most of her work as a public official/department head has kept her on the edge of politics there was at least once when she was thrust into the middle of a major controversy.
It was in the 1980s when a citizens group had circulated a petition to establish green belts around Manteca to curb growth. They had gathered the necessary signatures to qualify it for the ballot but when she reviewed the wording of the petition, it didn’t conform to state requirements leaving her no choice but to reject them.
“They did all of that hard work but I had to follow the law,” Tilton said.
As for elections, she says it is a misnomer that people have to spend lots of money to run. John Harris, who served from 1995 to 2013, rarely spent over $1,000 to get elected. And that was when some of his council colleagues were spending upwards of $23,000 each election cycle.
She initially was hired in April of 1981 as a secretary in the planning department back when Manteca had 25,000 residents. Manteca’s population is now at 75,000.
Her mother — Dorothy Felts — told her about the opening and said she should apply for it.
Three years later when City Matthews was hired to run the Stanislaus County elections office then City Manager David Jinkens tapped her to fill in as council secretary.
It was only after she was appointed that she was told she’d have to run for election as city clerk in several months. Tilton ran unopposed. The position remained elective until 2000 when voters authorized the council to fill the position.
The 1979 Manteca High graduate played softball and was a gymnast for the Buffs as well as being part of the Buffalo Gals drill team. She is also a graduate of Golden West School.
She took a job a year out of high school at age 19 at Venus DeMillo — the Curves of its day — that was located where Rocko’s once stood on North Main Street.
It was there she was able to talk the owner into letting her start an aerobics class.
Eventually Tilton became a certified aerobics instructor and personal trainer. She taught aerobics for more than 25 years. Tilton has also completed numerous marathons and has half-marathons.
Tilton has earned the title of Master Municipal Clerk from the professional organization of city clerks. She is past president and professional development director for the City Clerks Association of California.
She plans to stay active in the clerk’s organization.
As for Tilton’s immediate plans for retirement: “I’m not setting my alarm clock,” she quipped.