John Tulloch’s love for local government was cultivated at a tender age, when growing up in Piedmont he served as a youth volunteer in, as he puts it, “basically every department within the city.”
“When I came in and asked a question, people actually gave me an answer,” Tulloch said in an interview last week. “The accessibility and closeness of Piedmont to its city government is really amazing. I told myself, ‘If that’s what city government is, that’s what I want to do.'”
And he’s done it in Piedmont, his hometown, for the past 17 years — the past 13 as Piedmont’s city clerk. In a small city like Piedmont, that title covers everything from overseeing the city’s IT operations and the city TV station KCOM to managing City Council meetings and preparing the agenda material for them, election support, records tracking and reporting down to presiding over the city’s relatively small roster of business licenses.
“As a small full-service city, we call on our staff to serve many roles and John does that more than anyone,” Mayor Jen Cavenaugh said in an email this week. “(He) is the glue that keeps city hall and our respective departments working together cohesively.”
City administration, Tulloch said, has become a bigger, more complex job in recent years, not only in Piedmont but everywhere, with more and more statutory regulations. And after 13 years doing largely the same job, he said he needs a break.
“I’ve been here for 17 years and … it’s just time,” Tulloch said. “Personally, for me, it’s time for a change. I just feel burned out.”
After earning a politics and government degree from the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash. in 2000 and then working for five years (and five legislative sessions) for Washington state Sen. Paull Shin in Olympia, Tulloch said he got a call in 2006 from Piedmont’s then-city clerk, who suggested he apply for a new position the Piedmont City Council had recently created.
“It was ‘Administrative Services Technician II,’ part IT work, about 70 percent other duties,” said Tulloch, adding that he was excited to come back home and be part of the city’s government. He said a key reason he wanted to come back was the high level of civic involvement of both city staff and Piedmont residents.
“Piedmont’s always been a community, has always felt like that to me, and that fundamental (quality) is still there,” Tulloch said.
He was named city clerk in 2010, and assumed the added title of assistant city administrator in 2018.
Tulloch said he is proud that Piedmont provides the level of service it has with a total employment of about 100 people, and continued to do so through the COVID pandemic. He also coordinates the council’s online meetings – coverage that was technologically ahead of that of many other East Bay elected bodies. He is also proud of the five city elections — “the entryway into local government” — he oversaw; Cavenaugh spoke to Tulloch’s work leading elections.
“As a candidate for public office, John was my guiding light helping me and all other candidates navigate the mechanics and legal requirements of campaigning, fundraising and reporting,” the mayor said. “He knows the letter of the law and how it applies to Piedmont elections.”
But over time, state regulations and other requirements added to the weight of the job, Tulloch said, and he got to the point he had had enough. It’s a move he had been considering for a while, he said. But he said his departure is bittersweet – “I like working here!” he said.
Cavenaugh said that, given his longevity, his institutional knowledge of Piedmont and its traditions, it will be impossible to replace everything being lost with Tulloch’s departure. She also said Piedmont faces a tight job market for qualified professionals with Tulloch’s unique skill set. The city has retained “an experienced, well-connected recruiter” to help the City Council find a city clerk who will be the right fit for the community, Cavenaugh said. In the meantime, the council is looking for an interim city clerk, and has already met once, in closed session, to discuss the matter.
Tulloch said two contracting firms, Client First and Computer Courage, should have the city’s IT needs covered for the near term.
He doesn’t have another job or mission lined up; Tulloch said he needs time to decompress, and to spend time with his wife Karin and their two kids. He said he may, eventually, do some volunteer work in Piedmont, where he and his family live once again.
He’s firm in that this isn’t a retirement, and that his “calling” is public service.
“I’m trying to be open to whatever opportunities might be out there for me,” he said.
Contact Sam Richards at firstname.lastname@example.org