Betty Darby retires after 31 years with the City of Exeter

By Reggie Ellis

Just before Mayor Ted Macaulay struck the gavel to end the Jan. 23 City Council meeting, Councilmember Jack Allwardt made the suggestion that today be proclaimed &#8220Betty Darby Day” as it was the deputy city clerk's last meeting after 31 years at City Hall. After serving on the city council since 1998, Councilmember Charlie Norman said just one day would be a huge understatement to what Darby has meant to the City of Exeter. &#8220Every day was Betty Darby Day,” Norman said.

Betty Darby, 65, has worked with three city administrators, 10 mayors and about 20 city councilmembers during her 31-year career in Exeter. Darby, who already had eight years of experience working in finance and building and safety departments for the City of Oxnard, was hired at Exeter City Hall on Sept. 27, 1975 as a part-time administrative secretary for then City Administrator Leigh Megargee, who also served as the city's public works director.

&#8220At that time the city administrator was more involved with the day to day operations of the city,” Darby said. &#8220But with growth, the responsibilities had to be divided.”

Roy Chace became the city's administrator in 1982 and continued to work as the finance director, a position he had held since 1978. When Chace retired in 2004, he was succeeded by then Chief of Police John Kunkel, who became city administrator and a separate position was created for finance director.

&#8220I think if you cut Betty she would bleed Exeter,” Kunkel said. &#8220Betty put the city, all of the city, before herself when she was at work.”

Darby said she is most proud of the way Exeter has grown responsibly by adding retail and residential. &#8220While some people were upset with the new shopping centers on the west side, I think it's good that people aren't going to Visalia to spend their money,” Darby said. &#8220The growth hasn't been leaps and bounds, it was well thought out and planned.”

While division of labor continued for city administrators, Darby's job seemed to grow in responsibility each year. She quickly became a valuable full-time employee, then deputy city clerk, assistant city administrator and eventually personnel director, handling all of City Hall's human resources decisions.

&#8220She was the glue that held the city together,” said City Planner Greg Collins. &#8220When someone came in angry about a problem Betty had a way of disarming them, calming them down and helping them with the problem. There are not many people who can do that.”

Darby was also instrumental in researching old files prior to computers being introduced in Exeter in the early 1980s and having instant recall on the most common questions regarding ordinances in the six-inch thick City Code Book. &#8220I enjoyed the challenge,” Darby said. &#8220When someone came in wanting to know about an easement or deed for a piece of property, there were times I could have put it aside, but I enjoy digging and finding what they were looking for.”

&#8220Finding those kinds of things is going to take a little longer,” Collins said. &#8220She was a wonderful asset to the community.”

Darby's duties will primarily be taken over by Sandy Guillen. Guillen has been training under Darby for the transition and was already handling minutes for the Planning Commission for the last five years. Darby took shorthand minute notes at every meeting she attended, despite the fact that meetings were recorded for most of her time with the city. &#8220I can write as fast as people talk, and what if they machine didn't work,” Darby said. &#8220I guess I'm old-fashioned.”

But some of Darby's duties will have to be spread between several different employees, including Kunkel.

&#8220No one person could replace Betty,” Kunkel said. &#8220She will be missed for her knowledge of the city and her pleasant personality.”

No one may miss Darby more than Recreation/Public Works Director Felix Ortiz. Ortiz said Darby watched him grow up within the city. Darby was personnel director in the early 1980s when Ortiz began working as a youth program coordinator for the Recreation Department while he was in high school.

&#8220She has been there the whole time and I learned a lot from working with her,” Ortiz said. &#8220She had a way with words that seemed to make everyone feel comfortable. Whenever I had a problem, she was there for more than 20 years and really relied on her input, knowledge and experience.”

Darby said it is hard to retire but is looking forward to spending more time with her husband of 47 years, Dean Darby. She said her husband has already tried retirement, but has since gone back to work as a part-time truck driver. Year's ago, her mother told her not to retire, but Darby said she thinks it is time.

&#8220I wish I was 50 and had 15-20 more years of work left in me,” Darby said. &#8220I am just very task-oriented. It is a little bittersweet.”

To ease the transition, Darby will concentrate spending more time at her church, Faith Community Church in Visalia, with her five grandchildren and gardening on her two-and-a-half acres just outside of Visalia. She and her husband will also be great-grandparents on the first of March. When she left her last city council meeting, Darby was already making plans to go camping.

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