Joann Tilton has had a ringside seat to City of Manteca history.
She was there during the regional precedent-setting establishment of the 3.9 percent growth cap in 1985, the Great Chicken Bucket Sign Debate, and the Yellow Freight tiff that in 1989 what was framed as the battle for Manteca’s future south of the 120 Bypass.
Tilton was on hand for the combative golf course debates, the dark days of Spreckels Sugar’s closure and how the city responded, and the Big League Dreams debate that went into extra political innings.
Through that and 27 years of other city action that was almost just as exciting as well as mundane, she has dutifully recorded every action while uttering few words. She’s attended more than 1,000 public meetings with some lasting as long as several minutes to others that have dragged on for eight hours-plus.
It’s just part of the job that Tilton handles as Manteca’s city clerk. Among the other duties are 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 serves as the “go to” person when departments need to find out about the official city record in addition to preparing agendas and council packets.
And while Tilton and her staff take all aspects of the office’s duties seriously the one that she finds the most rewarding is helping citizens find information they need about their city government.
And perhaps the best example was how members of the public relied on Tilton and her staff to arm themselves with information they needed to make a case during the 30-month-long debate against locating Big League Dreams at Woodward Park.
“It wasn’t unusual for us to spend eight hours or more at a time sitting down with citizens helping them find documents they needed to make their point,” Tilton said.
Tilton didn’t set out to become a city clerk.
In fact, she wasn’t all that interested in government as a student at Manteca High where she played third base for the softball team and was one of the Buffalo Girls that performed with the marching band.
She remembers classmates being involved in Youth in Government Day and serving as mock council members and department heads. She couldn’t quite understand what the big deal was all about. She also was less than enthusiastic about her government class noting her teacher (Dane) Connors would be more than shocked to see her level of interest in government sharpened by 30 years with the city including 27 as city clerk.
She initially was hired in April of 1981 as a secretary in the planning department back when Manteca had 25,000 residents. Three years later when City Clerk Karen Matthews was hired to run the Stanislaus County elections office the 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.
“That was quite a surprise for me,” Tilton recalled.
Tilton ran unopposed. The position remained elective until 2000 when voters authorized the council to fill the position which is usually handled by the secretary to the council.
Tilton said many people don’t understand what her office does because her job title is referred to as city clerk. In smaller New England towns, as an example, the city or town clerk is essentially the city manager.
As for Manteca, some believe she simply takes council minutes. While keeping the official record - right down to 1,300-plus ordinances - is a vital part of her job it isn’t the only thing by far.
And while all aspects of her job are important, she believes serving as a liaison between the public and their elected council is perhaps the most important.
That includes helping citizens secure information from city documents to answer their questions or make their case.
“Part of the duties of a city clerk is to help citizens find their voice,” Tilton said. “I really enjoy doing that.”