Auburn's longtime city clerk ‘did not like’ how his tenure ended
When Stephanie Snyder gets sworn in as Auburn’s City Clerk on Monday, it will mark the final chapter of the 12-year term served by Joseph Labrie, and he says it is not a happy ending.
Outspoken in his role as clerk, he often took to the lectern at City Council meetings to voice his concerns if he felt something was not right. Labrie said he believes this put him on bad terms with the council, which he said has wanted him out for more than a year.
“I don’t want to sound like I am sour grapes on this thing although I am kind of bitter only because I did not like to go off the way I did,” said Labrie, adding that he was “flabbergasted” to have lost to Snyder by 77 votes, 2,840 to 2,763. “They were trying every which way to force me out, and the only way they could was to do it legally, to have somebody run against me, but I had some people tell me, ‘Keep it up, Joe. Keep it up.’”
Snyder, on the other hand, looks to bring a new approach to the position, and she said she plans to play more within the defined guidelines of the job description – including administering elections, access to city records and all legislative actions ensuring transparency to the public.
She will encourage the public to make their voices heard and to be watchdogs of the local government, but she said that if she has an opinion, she won’t be airing it out during council meetings.
“I see myself as applying my full attention to the role and job of the city clerk, and not taking that city clerk hat off while I step down to the lectern and put my citizen hat on,” Snyder said. “If for some reason something came up and I absolutely thought my opinion was needed … I know there are ways to appropriately register concerns.
“I don’t see myself doing it the way Joe did.”
What she does see herself doing is working to update the technology at the clerk’s office and bring it up to speed with the rest of the departments, she said.
“The first thing we would be doing is an assessment of what that would look like,” Snyder said.
Although she may view the office differently, Snyder said that she respects the commitment Labrie made, citing his impressive attendance record.
Labrie has attended about 300 City Council meetings and has only missed four during his tenure, he said.
Though no longer an elected official, he will still continue to serve as a watchdog and already knows an issue he would like to raise at a January meeting, he said.
“The city clerk, after a while, he gets to be able to read the council’s mind. He knows what’s coming,” Labrie said. “You get to read in between the lines, and the public is not capable of doing that and that’s why I speak out. I’m just sorry that I can’t do it any more as the city clerk.”
He knows he was unique in that role, proudly claiming he was the only city clerk in California that publicly spoke out in such a way. Labrie loudly voiced his opposition to the charter city measure that appeared, and was defeated, on the June ballot.
He said his outspokenness put him in ill favor of the council, however. In efforts to have him removed from the position, he said the city cut his pay, tried to eliminate the position and, when those measures didn’t work, had someone run against him.
The city cut the elected clerk’s pay from a $300 monthly stipend to $270 in 2009, and in 2010 the council voted for it to be reduced to $200 this December. All city employees underwent that 10 percent reduction in 2010. Labrie said his medical benefits had also been taken away.
Around the same time as the 2010 pay cut, the council had discussed changing the city clerk position from elected to appointed.
The city also employs a trained, full-time professional to the clerk’s office – Amy Lind, the deputy city clerk – who handles the daily operations. Snyder’s personal background working for Rancho Cordova’s city government will allow her to bring additional professional experience to the office, she said.
City Councilman Dr. Bill Kirby, who begins his second term Monday, said it is nothing personal against Labrie, Kirby just believes that the elected city clerk position is obsolete and one that many cities do without.
“The bottom line is he barely comes to the meeting, he hands the tapes over to someone else to transcribe – the job really doesn’t do anything,” Kirby said. “So we feel like it is a waste of taxpayers’ money to keep having elections (for that position), but the citizens have chosen to continue the position.”
That Snyder, wife of former Councilman and Planning Commissioner Bob Snyder, ran against him and won is “insidious,” Labrie said, because Snyder had been supportive of eliminating the elected position.
“I know that this city clerk won’t speak up, because she’s the wife of the guy who was trying to get rid of the previous city clerk,” he said. “So there’s no way she’s going to speak up.”
Bob Snyder did, indeed, support the elimination of the position at that time, though others led the discussion, Snyder said.
He said Labrie wasn’t doing his job.
“He was just showing up and he, over time, assumed his job was to be the police person for the City Council,” Bob Snyder said. “That isn’t the city clerk’s job to keep the City Council honest. It is every citizen’s job to watch what the City Council does.
“The office has languished. … I don’t think he can point to anything he’s done in terms of improving the city clerk’s office, and that’s why I thought his service was ineffective and didn’t deserve the kind of pay it was getting.”
When asked what her biggest challenge in replacing someone who has held that seat for so long, Stephanie Snyder said it would be getting the public to understand its role as the “watchdog,” opposed to that of the clerk.
“All of us are called to be watchdog of these elected officials,” she said. “That’s our civic responsibility. It’s not just the person who sits in the city clerk seat.”
Jon Schultz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_AJNews