When Virginia Clough announced earlier this month that she was leaving the City of Mountlake Terrace after 21 years for a job in Eastern Washington, City Councilmember Doug McCardle remarked that she would have “big shoes to fill.”
Actually, make that two pairs of shoes.
The city council at a special meeting last week approved a staff recommendation that Clough’s position of city clerk/community relations director be split into two jobs. As a result, the city will begin looking immediately to hire a full-time city clerk, followed by the eventual hire of a communications manager. (The city currently has a full-time community relations specialist, Rikki Fruichantie, who reports to Clough.)
How Clough ended up with two very busy City of Mountlake Terrace job titles — which encompass staffing 75-80 meetings a year plus 50 hours a week at her desk — is a story that begins with her hiring in July 2001. Except for a brief stint working for the City of Fullerton, California, she had no experience in city government. But she did have exceptional customer service and legal skills — honed during six years working for the airlines followed by work as a paralegal at an Edmonds law office.
A native of Shoreline, Clough was attending University of Southern California when she met her then-husband, marrying him shortly after graduation. Clough started out majoring in aerospace engineering — “I always wanted to be an astronaut as a little girl,” she said — but didn’t feel she had the drafting and engineering skills to stay in that major. Instead, she earned a bachelor of arts degree in German, with the goal of becoming a German teacher. She then worked eight months for the City of Fullerton, serving an office assistant to the executive assistant to the city manager. While she quit that position when her husband got a job in Chicago, she noted “it’s kind of funny how my career came full circle” with her hiring in Mountlake Terrace.
She was 23 when she arrived in Chicago, and was able to use her German to work for the airlines — starting out at Delta and then ending up in the international department at American Airlines. She was assigned to Germany flights, assisting passengers mostly at the arrival and departure gates.
Making sure those passengers made their flights, she said, was good training for her future job as a city clerk, which included scheduling and management of city council meetings.
“Everything was on a schedule,” she said.
She and her husband returned to the Seattle area, and Clough went to work for a downtown Edmonds law firm, handling paralegal work and personal injury claims. While helping her husband look for a job, she came across a classified ad in The Seatte Times for the executive assistant to the city manager in Mountlake Terrace.
“I wasn’t even looking for a job at all,” she recalled. But the job interested her, and after doing some online research, she applied and was hired, going to work for then-City Manager Connie Fessler in July 2001.
While she didn’t have the title of city clerk at the time, “my job was always doing the council meetings,” she said. Her predecessor left quickly and Clough didn’t receive much training, so Fessler advised her to join the Washington State Municipal Clerks Association. “I just kind of learned the job as I went,” Clough said.
Over time, Clough also began taking on the city’s community relations duties, which included coordinating numerous events from ribbon cuttings to park cleanups to the annual National Night Out, to overseeing the city’s website and — with the help of an assistant — producing press releases and posting on social media.
Because of her background as editor of the Shorecrest High School newspaper, Clough was tapped to produce the City Happenings newsletter, a bimonthly print publication that is mailed to anyone with a Mountlake Terrace ZIP code.
Those outreach efforts ramped up further with the 2006 hiring of new City Manager John Caulfield, who came in with “a huge plan for community relations,” Clough recalled.
Caulfield directed Clough to figure out how to get city council agenda packets on the website, and find a way to live-stream the council meetings so they were more accessible to the public. In 2007, the city council began audiostreaming its meetings; prior to that time, the meetings were recorded on cassette tapes that the public could request copies of.
“I’m proud of the community relations program,” Clough said. “I think for a city of our size and the staff we have, we do an amazing job.”
Asked to pinpoint highlights of her two decades with the city, Clough mentioned the role she played in working with the community to pass Proposition 1, a $12.5 million bond measure that funded the construction of the new Mountlake Terrace City Hall and a remodeled police station.
Voter approval in November 2017 followed a year-long effort by a council-appointed City Hall Advisory Committee along with several community meetings that gave citizens a chance to provide their input on the project.
Three previous ballot measures – one for $37.5 million in 2010 and two more for $25 million in 2012 and 2013 – failed to reach the required 60% to pass a capital bond measure. The difference in 2017, Clough said, was involving the community “from the very beginning and it was such a lesson learned.”
Advisory committee members participated in various ways, from selection of the architects to assisting with community outreach to determining the price of the project’s square footage. Clough said she felt optimistic about the measure’s passage after numerous residents visited the city’s booth at the 2017 summer Tour de Terrace festival — prior to the November vote. “They thanked the city for including them as part of the process,” she said.
She also highlighted another project she coordinated — the city’s Evergreen Awards — which for 10 years recognized property owners and renters for their work in beautifying, renovating and improving their homes, condominiums and businesses.
Clough is excited about her new job: She’ll be serving as the legislative policy coordinator/project manager for City of Spokane Valley, a city just east of Spokane with a population 107,000 and growing. Reporting to the city manager, she will be working with the state and federal delegation on the city’s legislative agenda, and other job duties still to be determined.
But she admits that she will miss Mountlake Terrace, a place where her two children — now 24 and 27 and living in California — “grew up coming to the spring clean-up events” and had their first taste of hard work at the city’s annual Tour de Terrace festival.
“I think it’s a really special community,” Clough said. “I’ve gotten to meet them (community members) at council meetings or events or even on the front doorstep when they’ve invited me into their homes and backyards. I’m pretty fortunate to have lucked into this job and this profession that I love in this community that is small enough that I can get to know people.”
Clough remarried two years ago and shared that her husband decribed her as someone who connects people — an attribute that several city councilmembers mentioned when saying goodbye to her during Aug. 15 council meeting.
“I enjoy making people feel connected to government and not intimidated by it,” Clough said. “That’s why you probably see me before meetings in the council chambers, introducing myself (to attendees), asking them if they have questions. It’s not a big scary place, you are just talking to the council. One of my passions is making people feel safe about visiting city hall and making them feel welcome.”
She still stays in touch with her first city boss, Connie Fessler, who lives in Mountlake Terrace, and also cited many other other city mentors over the years including former Economic and Community Development Director Shane Hope, former city manager Caulfield, and longtime City Councilmember and Mayor Jerry Smith, who died in December 2018.
And she expressed pride in the current city council. “They’re good people. And they’re great to work with. And they get along,” she said.
Anyone who wants to say goodbye to Virginia Clough is invited to an open hourse in her honor, scheduled from 3-5 p.m. on her last day — Wednesday, Aug. 31 — at Mountlake Terrace City Hall, 23204 58th Ave. W.
— By Teresa Wippel