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She saw it all: 3 ring circus to The Greatest Show on Earth
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Joann Tilton has had a ringside seat to Manteca history.
Her 32-year tenure as city clerk at Manteca’s City Council meetings have vacillated between “The Greatest Show on Earth” to a three-ring circus.
Along the way she has seen golf become a contact political blood sport, council meetings ending with just an hour or so to spare before sunrise, and council majorities authorizing the spending of $20,000 to obtain outside lawyers to investigate the conduct of minority council members.
But she also seen long range visionary thinking that has secured water and wastewater treatment that benefits Manteca residents with some of the lowest rates in the valley. Forward thinking also brought Big League Dreams, Bass Pro, Costco, Del Webb and a myriad of things to town that have been known to make other cities look at Manteca with envy.
During that time Manteca has gone from just over 21,000 souls to nearly 75,000 people.
Some of the more bizarre council meeting moments she was witness to were:
uTHE MYSTERY MANILA ENVELOPE: During the citizen’s comments of one meeting, longtime community activist Georgianna Reichelt who was in the thick of the fight against plans to locate BigLleague Dreams at Woodward Park, stepped up to the podium clutching a manila envelope. Reichelt informed the council the BLD fight was getting nasty and that someone had deposited a revolting item in the bed of a truck outside her home. She had brought the item in a manila envelope that she handed to then Police Chief Charlie Halford. The police chief looked inside, scrunched his face, and handed the envelope to Tilton. The city clerk peaked inside and a look of shock came across her face as she handed the envelope to City Manager Bob Adams. The item inside was a used condom. It isn’t clear whether it was kept as part of the city’s official record of the meeting as is documentation submitted by speakers.
uLOADED FINGER: During the epic battle that raged for more than five years on whether the city should partner with Big League Dreams, BLD principal Rick Oderkirk got into a heated exchange with Councilwoman Denise Giordano. At one point Oderkirk aimed his finger at Giordano. As he wagged it, he said in no uncertain terms he had no intention of backing down. Giordano took it as a threat to her life. The San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office got involved. After an investigation it was determined no threat had been made.
uWHERE THE SUN DOESN’T SHINE: During a council discussion about extending Crom Street to Airport Way, the impacted property owner Chris Crom believed he was getting royally onced over by the city. Crom walked up to the podium, placed a can of salve on it, opened it, dipped his hand in and then proceeded to tell the council what they were doing to him.
uEXPLICIT ORDINANCE: Early on in her career as a city clerk, the council was considering adopting rules governing public nudity. Tilton was 23 years old at the time. Two of the council members — Chuck Shaefer and Jack Snyder — not only were the fathers of kids she grew up with but she also spent time at their houses. When Shaefer insisted the ordinance be read in it’s entirely before a vote was taken, the task fell upon Tilton. To say she was uncomfortable doing so was an understatement. As she became red faced the more she read, the more she tripped over her tongue as she neared the most graphic part — the definition section —but then City Attorney John Brinton interrupted. He told the mayor since his office was more familiar with the ordinance he would read it. Tilton said Brinton racked up major brownie points with her for doing that.
uELEPHANT GESTATION PERIOD: Tilton had just found out she was pregnant with her son Spencer when the council started discussing the pros and cons of Yellow Freight locating a terminal southeast of the Main Street and 120 Bypass interchange. The council was going at it when she gave birth and didn’t take a vote until her son was well on the way to his first birthday.
There were a lot of awkward moments, intense times, emotionally-charged meetings, and ugly politics.
But far outweighing those bizarre incidents and many more were the other times that put into motion things that made Manteca what it is today between being a city of 60 plus parks, having water and wastewater treatment systems geared to handle growth, and the various amenities that make a community livable.
At the end of it all what counts is that people can rely on the city to collect their garbage, so that water runs out of their faucets, so that toilets flush and that police or firefighters come when there is an emergency.
And perhaps no incident drives home the point more during Tilton’s tenure than when Charles Shaefer died in the 1980s. A county building inspector by trade, he was a long serving and much beloved council member when he passed away. His visitation — complete with Manteca Police honor guard — was conducted in the council chambers.
The people paying their respects included those that disagreed with some of his stances on the council. But even so they understood and appreciated the commitment he had to the city and essentially to their lives to make things work.
And when Tilton wraps up her 35 years as a city employee — including 32 years as city clerk — on Friday you can add her name to those that have served Manteca well.

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209.249.3519.