Pleasanton Weekly

Column - October 29, 2010

Election keeps City Clerk Diaz busy

by Jeb Bing

It may not be the oldest profession in the world, but the municipal clerk's job is considered the oldest of public servants in local government along with tax collector. The profession dates back to Biblical times when the early keepers of archives were often called "Remembrancers." The job has changed considerably since then with Pleasanton's City Clerk Karen Diaz today heading one of the most important departments in municipal government while also serving as its technology guru in making sure public meetings are posted in print, on live television, on DVDs and on podcasts.

At election time, the clerk's job is also at its busiest, making sure voters and the candidates they're selecting have all the information needed at the ballot box.

In a municipal election year, it starts in May when Diaz send to the City Council a draft ordinance setting the date of the election and containing up-to-date information and requirements imposed since the last election by the council and state. Once enacted at least 127 days before the election, Diaz and her staff create a new candidates' manual with all the rules and criteria carefully explained for experienced and first-time candidates to review and follow. The manual, at one time more than 3-inches thick, is now given to candidates on a DVD where information is readily available and indexed.

Nominations for mayor and City Council this year opened July 12 -- or 113 days before the Nov. 2 election -- and closed at 5 p.m. Aug. 6, or 88 days ahead of the election. Prospective candidates often met with Diaz ahead of time to discuss procedures and what they would need to file, and then returned their papers with at least 20 signatures from registered Pleasanton voters who were nominating the candidate. Once submitted, the paperwork was sent to the County Registrar, whose office verified the signatures and voting status, and then sent the certified document back to Diaz. Although each candidate could start campaigning, requirements from the city clerk's office continued, including filing the 460s, the campaign contribution and expenditure documents that are posted online regularly during the campaign. If there are any discrepancies in these reports, Diaz asks candidates to re-file to correct the errors.

Diaz used to be badgered by questions from voters about campaign contributions. Scores of requests came in for printouts of some or all of the filing materials, which often involved days of photocopying and one-on-one conversations. Since the 460s were posted online at the request of the council to make campaign financing more transparent to the public, Diaz has had no requests for printouts. But she and her staff still get questions, many from vendors who want to contact candidates to sell election campaign related materials. They're given the same contact information available to everyone: usually a candidate's name and email address. Diaz also fields questions on the school board election, also being held on Nov. 2, although that information is handled by the Alameda County Registrar's office, not by local city halls. Her office is still the best known public contact so it fields numerous calls that come in during the election period about candidates, campaign signs and polling places, which can usually be answered.

Running for election isn't easy or inexpensive in Pleasanton. Filing forms that Diaz collects must contain information to show that there are no conflicts of interests. A deposit of $1,117 is also required by Alameda County to print a candidate's information in the Sample Ballot. Based on a city's population, the fee can vary with adjustments made after the election. Diaz said a reason for the high fee is that the ballot is printed in three languages: English, Spanish and Chinese. Los Angeles County, where ethnic groups that comprise 5% or more of the population can have ballots printed in their native languages, now prints its Sample Ballot in nine different languages.

Diaz has been a City Clerk since 1987 when she was elected to the position in Southern California's city of Indio in Riverside County. Re-elected twice, she left there in 1995 to take an appointment by the Escalon City Council to serve as City Clerk in that small central San Joaquin Valley community. In 1999, she was appointed City Clerk in fast-growing Brentwood, moving to the same position in Union City in 2005. In 2006, she was hired by Pleasanton to succeed City Clerk Dawn Abrahamson, who took the same post in Fremont.

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