After dedicating the past 15 years of her life to working as Milpitas’ City Clerk, Mary Lavelle is retiring.
With her penchant for organization, her razor-sharp grasp of details, and her deeply consistent nature, Lavelle has built a great deal of reputational capital over the years. Many in and out of City Hall will no doubt miss her presence.
Lavelle’s position has called for her to wear multiple hats over the last decade and a half. She has been a fixture at City Council meetings. Not only was she in charge of preparing City Council agendas and materials, but she was also tasked with writing out the meeting minutes.
As City Clerk, she has also served as the administrator for previous elections, helping candidates get their paperwork together and filed with the County. Lavelle is also the one who officially swears in elected officials and finalizes election results. Her role even encompasses records administration, and it has been her responsibility to organize and maintain long-term records storage, such as for ordinances and minutes.
Along with overseeing the U.S. Passport program and supporting city commissioners, Lavelle has also served as a central resource for anyone who has a question about where to go or who to connect with to get their needs met.
When asked what she has appreciated most about her job, Lavelle replied without hesitation: “Being able to serve the City Council, City Manager, Staff, and especially the community by being a very reliable source of information for the public. I’ve always appreciated the City Clerk’s office being a location that they could come to and talk to my staff and myself, and have questions about anything.”
Before coming to the City of Milpitas, she was an election staff member for San Mateo County, and has also served as Deputy City Clerk for the City of Millbrae.
Originally from Massachusetts, Lavelle attended Wheaton College, majoring in Government.
She had a chance to work as an intern for the Democratic National Committee, and ventured out to San Francisco in 1984. It was her first time in California.
“I just loved it,” said Lavelle. “I thought it was beautiful.”
After her California trip, she went back to Massachusetts and finished up college. Then she began working various jobs. Through her 20s, she worked at Red Cross for some time, then also became a staff member at an investment company.
Inspired by a sense of adventure, Lavelle decided to transfer her job out to California. She wanted to try something new.
After some time, however, she realized that things weren’t completely clicking for her, in terms of the current career path.
“I thought: Why am I working in these other fields when I prefer government and politics?” Lavelle said. “So I decided to go to graduate school.”
She soon got her Master of Public Administration degree from Cal State Hayward.
From that point on, Lavelle dedicated herself to serving in local government — for the next 27 years. Along with that, she also found time to serve as a Planning Commissioner for 11 years for the City of Hayward.
At the December 15 Council meeting, Lavelle was honored with a proclamation and a key to the city, which were presented by Mayor Rich Tran.
“Over the last 15 years you’ve been here in this city, you have been the face of our organization in so many ways…” said Tran at the meeting. He also spoke of how Lavelle was the first person he met at City Hall in 2014, when he walked in to file to run for City Council. At the time, he didn’t know anyone there, and it was Lavelle who represented everything in City Hall and local government to him.
In a conversation with The Beat, Tran called Lavelle “the epitome of professional” and said that he appreciated the vast amount of work she put in for public records, passports, and helping other residents.
“You have provided consistent high-level clerk work. I’m really sad to see you go. I don’t want to see you go,” said Tran to Lavelle, at the meeting.
That sentiment — of not wanting Lavelle to leave — was expressed by many of the other councilmembers, as well.
“You are the best,” Councilmember Karina Dominguez said to Lavelle during the meeting. “And other surrounding cities have expressed even before I was in office that you are the best — the integrity, the love, the passion you put into your work…”
City Manager Steve McHarris shared his thoughts about Mary’s retirement with The Beat: “Mary has faithfully and professionally served the City of Milpitas and its residents for many years. Everyone that works with Mary knows she is one of my go-to persons. She’s been a great asset to the City, embracing her role with so much integrity and she will be terribly missed.”
Pam Caronongan, the Deputy City Clerk in Milpitas, has served as Lavelle’s “right-hand” for the past 6 years. Caronongan spoke to The Beat about how much Lavelle has taught her over the years, and noted how Lavelle was the embodiment of “transparency and a sense of ethics.”
“It’s been a privilege, an honor, and very humbling to serve alongside her,” said Caronongan. “It’s been a very good, fruitful, and productive 6 years. She’s taught me so much. I’ve grown a lot being with Mary.”
When she retires, Lavelle plans on staying active and doing what she loves — riding her bike, hiking, and doing yoga. She also hopes to travel once it’s again safe to do so. She had hoped to go to Ireland for the first time this year, to explore and learn more about her heritage, but after COVID hit, she had to put her plans on hold.
Lavelle made a point of mentioning that some of the people she’s most grateful for are the staff members that have worked with her in the City Clerk’s Office.
“I’ve worked with some really fantastic people,” she said.
She also expressed particular gratitude for being to serve and work with the executive team and City Council.
“I admire the City Council and people that step up. They have to make the big decisions. It’s hard work. It’s really satisfying to be a professional member of the executive team of the city, bringing forward the agendas, and the information that the Council needs…” said Lavelle. “But my role is neutral. I’m not the policy decision maker. I’m the person that provides the materials that enable the decision-making. And I’ve really liked that role.”
Lavelle’s last day as City Clerk is December 31.