Becoming a Public Servant, Avoiding Political Scandal, Sexual Harassment, and Old Technology

Becoming a public servant; avoiding political scandal; changing my name and my life

My first job in the public sector was as Secretary to the Director of Planning for a Bay Area municipal government office.  I gained a new job and a new first name in the process. 

When I was introduced to the three Public Works/Engineering inspectors, they asked me if I had a nickname because “Renanne” my given name, was so unique and hard to remember.  My brothers called me “Nan.” They said I did not look like a “Nan” so I suggested “Anne” and it was “Anne” from there on.  I actually liked the short name. I didn’t have to repeat, spell, or go into how I got it or anything any more. It was easy to remember. 

The Planning Department had two employees: Director of Planning and Associate Planner and me, the first Planning Department Secretary.  The departments of Public Works, Building, Parks and Recreation, and Fire had no clerical staff so I helped out as often as I could with their secretarial needs. It was interesting working with the different personalities and they were all really wonderful considerate men, grateful for my help.

I loved working the front counter answering zoning questions when the Planning staff was out of the office.  I worked on the General Plan revision with our consultants and liked being on the ground floor of some major changes in the city’s growth. The City incorporated years earlier, joining two entirely separate communities into one City and there were exciting changes being made that would dictate the City’s future for at least 20 years which included a regional shopping center, housing subdivisions, and development of industrial sites for large manufacturing plants.

Aside from my regular duties during the day, I worked at nights taking minutes of meetings for the Planning Commission, Parks and Recreation Commission, Design Review Committee, and BART Review Committee.

Several months into my new job the Director of Planning took a job in southern California. Jack, the Building Inspector, took on the added responsibility and became the Director of Building and Zoning.  Jack became my boss and he was wonderful.  Besides being a full time integral part of the office staff, he was a respected structural engineer (who prepared structural plans for outside clients), and a famous and very popular Bay Area square dance caller (doing his own choreography, calling dances, and making a few square dance records), all in his spare time.  He was a meticulous man who was extremely organized. He always looked sharp with his western cut suits, bolo ties and cowboy boots. 

Jack used to come by my office and say, “Hey little gal, stop by my office when you have a chance.”  When I finished what I was doing, I went into his office, we closed the door, and we talked for as long as he wanted to talk.  I found him fascinating because he was a very interesting man whose stories were very entertaining. We had a wonderful rapport. 

His son came into city hall regularly before closing to visit him. Jack briefed me about his son’s past so I knew he was 11 years my senior, married twice before, with a child from each relationship.  I am pretty sure Jack was a matchmaker because his son and I met, he pursued me, and we got married about eight months later.

I never told my Dad that Doug was married twice and had two kids until I was married about eight years.  I only told him what I felt he had to know which was that he was married and had a little four year old son because his little son came to visit on several weekends a month and you could hardly hide an adorable little blonde boy calling him “daddy.” We never saw the older child.

Usually, Italians like to feed people.  Not in this case.  Dad never really liked the man who his daughter was going to marry because Doug had been married and divorced and had baggage.  He would appear around dinner time after work.  Dad used to say with this disgusted look on his face, “Jeez, doesn’t he have a home to go to?”  Or, “Does he always have to come over here at dinner time?”  This was the first of many instances where I felt I was stuck in the middle, with each man not willing to confront the other but very willing to dump on me to handle whatever it was and this went on for the whole 16.5 years that I was married to him.

I became a step-mom at a very young age and I loved my little step-son. After I got married in June ’68 and became pregnant, I quit my job in March to be a stay-at-home mom and had my firstborn in April. When my daughter was ten months old, the woman I trained quit and the City begged me to come back on a “temporary” basis, because I was then related by marriage to the Director of Building and Zoning. 

Fortunately for me, my Mom agreed to watch my daughter and her house was less than ½ mile from City Hall, so I agreed to go back to work on this “temporary” basis. I worked for over a year with no one bothering to advertise for the job. I found myself pregnant again and, in order for them to keep me permanently, the City had to pass a resolution to allow me to work there and the City agreed to provide benefits back to the day I came back to work so my pregnancy was covered. The City really wanted me back on a permanent basis and that was encouraging. Being a City staff member there was like having a huge family and everyone got along very well.  I loved my job and the people I worked with. There were only four of us women who worked there: the Receptionist, the Financial Officer, the City Manager’s Secretary, and me.  

We had some great parties at City Hall for the holidays.  City staff and Councilmembers met in the Council Chambers after 3 PM and had food, drink (mostly supplied by the construction industry’s donations to the building inspectors), and music to dance to. This was really back in the day when you could do this.  Today you have to declare any gifts over $25 in most cities, and God help you if you have alcohol on city premises. Aside from those in-house afternoon holiday parties, I was the office party organizer and we had wonderful evening Christmas parties each year. After the clean-up crew buried the bodies and destroyed evidence, we all went to breakfast at the Holiday Bowl in Hayward to top off the event. 

We are so lucky today that technology has replaced some of the antiquated office methods we used in those days. These were the days prior to computers when you typed on electric typewriters onto stencils and ran copies on the stencil machine for duplicating staff reports. 

After typing on the stencils, you had to proofread by lifting the stencil made from blue waxed mulberry paper to the attached sheet of rather stiff white card stock. If you made a mistake you needed to paint some blue liquid on the mistake, try to position the stencil back in the typewriter at the same spot as the mistake, and type in the corrected image.  To print, the stencil is wrapped around the ink-filled drum of a rotary machine. When a blank sheet of paper is drawn between the rotating drum and a pressure roller, ink is forced through the holes on the stencil onto the paper. God help you if you had to fix a mistake after it was inked up for duplication. In that case you had to wipe it down so ink would not be left inside the workings of the typewriter.

The Public Works Director wanted his staff reports typed for the Ozalid machine; on some chemically treated paper in which the image is developed with an ammonia vapor. This was a sheet of translucent paper with an orange type of carbon under it, face up. If you made a mistake, you had to take a razor and scrape out the orange colored mistake and replace it with the correction. It was good to type without making any mistakes if you could. The machine was located in a small closet-like area and it was so stinky that it felt like I was in a room with many wet diapers left there for a week.  The ammonia smell was so pungent it almost knocked me out, even though the small room was vented.

One day, I proofed my project and all its five pages typed on stencils by checking them on the white backing. All looked okay. Proofreading was difficult to do with the stencils.  I went ahead and printed about 50 copies. I gave out a copy to the Public Works Director before distributing the staff reports. I heard him laughing and went in to investigate.  He told me to read one of the pages about the proposed Bart station.  I did. 

Well, you can imagine my embarrassment because obviously my finger did the walking over to the “F” instead of “B” which totally changed the document.  It was no longer the BART station.  We had some good laughs over it before I had to yank apart the staff reports and replace it with a corrected page.  Ugh!  Another word to watch out for was “public” as in Public Works. God help the one who left the “L” out of public which could also change the document. It never happened to me because I was very careful about it.

Reminds me of having some brochures made for White Rabbit a few years ago.  I was so proud of them when they came from the printer that I showed my husband.  I had taken an older version and updated it by cutting and pasting in the computer mock-up.  Bill asked me if I renamed my shoppe.  I wondered what the heck he was talking about. I looked at the document and it said, “White Rabbi.” OMG.  I had to add a “t” on each of the brochures. And I used to be a really good proofreader too!!  Old age has taken over and my skills have obviously diminished. 

One night after work when I was still single, all the staff went to an open house of a realty office in town.  My co-workers begged me to go and I agreed even though I had work still left to do at City Hall before going home to get an agenda package out. I went for a short while, basically to make an appearance, knowing I had to return to City Hall to do some work.  Had I known I would almost get caught up in a potential political scandal, I would have done things differently.

At the event, the mayor, up for re-election, asked me if I was going back to City Hall and if I could give him a lift in my little red sports car.  Sure, why not, I thought. Once there, it didn’t take long for the mayor to chase me around trying to kiss me and threatening me because, after all, he said he “signed my paychecks.”  I was scared and somewhat overpowered by a man who obviously thought he was God’s gift to women because a little power went to his head. Power or no power, he was merely a legend in his own mind.  I made it to a telephone and called my co-worker at home who came to City Hall immediately and took the mayor home albeit not without a fight.  I was saved by a phone call!

The five member City Council could not agree on anything -- ever. It was always a 3-2 or 2-3 vote. The minority Councilmembers found out about this little problem somehow and wanted to use it to politically humiliate the married but separated mayor. 

Monday morning our beloved City Manager called me into his office and asked me what happened Friday night at City Hall.  I was so scared that I was going to lose my job.  Since I had done nothing wrong, I told him the truth, nothing really happened.  I think my dear friend, the Associate Planner, gave the City Manager a heads up that the mayor was on the loose and he had to go to City Hall to round him up and take him home.  It must have been discussed at a department head meeting.  And they say men do not gossip!!

Thankfully, nothing happened and I kept my job. If I was more secure in my job when the incident occurred, and a little older, I am sure I would have had some choice words for his honor the mayor. These days it would be a sexual harassment case for sure.  We had lots of sexual harassment back then and in my experience, most of it innocent.

The frisky white-haired older Fire Chief used to almost pin me to the wall in the copy room when he was over at City Hall.  I got to be smart mouthed after a while and I always just said to him, “What’s the matter, didn’t you get any last night?”  He said the famous words, “Just because there is snow on the roof, doesn’t mean there ain’t no fire in the fireplace.” I thought it was funny.  I didn’t encourage it, but I did not turn him in either. He never meant any harm to anyone. I didn’t want him to lose his job, ruin his career, or lose his retirement, and I found him very entertaining because he was a very likable guy and I was a good sport and very tolerant.

In my very last job in the public sector, I did have a plaque on my wall in my work station which said, “Sexual Harassment in this area will not be tolerated, it will be graded.” I guess I have a warped sense of humor but that is who I am.

True sexual harassment is very serious.  But you almost can’t joke any more these days. If someone says you look nice, it can be considered sexual harassment.  We have come a long way, but sometimes I think we have gone too far. 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Donaleen DiBetta October 22, 2011 at 04:26 PM
Oh my..............brings back many memories of how things used to be for us gals. I recall those copy machines and hanging papers to dry before you stapled them together!!! They were awful, but things got done miraculously!!! We used to smoke at our desk and go to Paul's Place for lunch and have a cocktail -- then go back to work...........this was in the early 60's. We always got our work done. What fun!!


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