Piedmont City Clerk Tulloch leaving post after almost 17 years
By Lou Fancher
Entering the last week of his service to the Piedmont community after working in city government for nearly 17 years, John Tulloch said in an interview that the decision to step away had nothing to do with retirement.
“I’ve decided it’s time to take a break. I tell people I’m going to ‘figure out what I want to do when I grow up.’ Honestly? I’m going to not work for several months and see what comes up. It might be somehow working in elections to make sure people continue to have the right to free and fair participation in voting, something at risk in our world today.
“I do know I’ll continue to be a part of this town I grew up in and have been lucky enough to work in. The job I have now is different every day, and I enjoy that and will keep learning as part of the picture in the future.”
Tulloch joined the city of Piedmont in 2006 as an administrative services technician after working for four years as a legislative assistant in the Washington State Senate. Initially, he focused on IT and records management. After four years, the City Council appointed him to the position of city clerk following the retirement of Ann Swift.
Eventually, in addition to his city clerk responsibilities, the job expanded when he was named assistant city administrator. Tulloch, 45, and his wife, Karin Tulloch, have two children ages 12 and 15. He says he has no plans to relocate, noting that although his mother, Judith Rowe Tulloch, died in June 2022, his father and step-mother, Brian Tulloch and Kristi Rasmussen, still live in Piedmont.
Tulloch says his parents never pushed any one vocation on him and that from a young age, he was interested in government and public service. Without knowing what career path he may follow, he instinctively believed government could enact good things for people.
“For me it’s a calling,” Tulloch said. “It’s on the level of what people called to the priesthood say. All I know is that it’s a call I have and will dedicate my life to. Public service is making the community I live in be the best it can be.”
As a kid growing up in Piedmont’s 1.7-mile footprint, he volunteered in almost every city department. He worked in the Recreation Department and while in high school, joined with friends to resurrect a 1980s foot race as a fundraiser for their school.
“It (the foot race) kind of had died, and we came to City Hall and asked about it. They didn’t act like I was a young, naive person. They didn’t say, “Here are 18 forms you have to fill out and 10 committees to meet with. We instead had a great meeting.
“They listened to what we wanted to do and raised good questions, like about the race being held on a Sunday morning and going right by the community church. It made us think about how to do an event that will impact the city in a way that addressed our goals and didn’t negatively impact the town. How could we make it work for everybody? That’s what it was: working together for the common good.”
From a list of mentors that he says “could go on and on,” Tulloch learned important skills and principles. He said former City Administrator Geoff Grote, who served the city for 25 years until 2014, taught him “good, sound, government services” and how to keep the council and public focused.
Tulloch said former Finance Director Eric Cheung demonstrated dedication and doing right by the public in every action and that Swift, Tulloch’s predecessor, was an exemplary communicator.
“She has a calm visage and knew her stuff back and forth. As my predecessor, I wanted to do the same and be able to explain things to residents and how to change them if that’s what they wanted to do.”
Tulloch says the complexity of local government is fun and difficult at the same time. He said often people don’t know their City Council members well, but the effect the council has on their lives “is magnified in reverse, and we make decisions that impact people every day.” Tulloch said he finds teaching people they also have input to be gratifying and fun.
“Piedmont is responsive. We aren’t a monolith trying to impose our will on the people who live here. The council are all-volunteer and unpaid. In a small town like Piedmont, if someone is concerned or has questions, you can walk into City Hall and there’s always someone who can answer and explain things.”
Drawing inspiration from three grandfathers, all of whom served in World War II, Tulloch says unwavering perseverance, maintaining a sense of humor, honoring family and treating people with respect shape his personal ethics.
Those qualities helped Tulloch weather several civic “storms” before the pandemic, such as the undergrounding of utilities, about which he says people “had differing opinions and was definitely contentious.” The development of a sports field also had people with opposing viewpoints.
“We tried to work through them as best we could, and it’s my belief we went in the end to doing what was right by the community,” Tulloch said.
The pandemic introduced novel challenges for the City Council and the city’s staff that in 2020 stood at about 95 full-time employees. Police and Fire Department personnel and others involved in maintaining the city’s streets, sewers and parks could not stay home. Tulloch said everything had to pivot almost overnight, from recreation programs to building and park maintenance to communicating with the public about safety issues.
“Closing our parks and getting that message out to residents was something we’d never had to do before,” he said. “Then, when we could start to get together, we had to retool and figure out child care, group participation and keeping everyone safe.”
Asked to identify the accomplishment he will most remember, he says, “I’m proud of running municipal elections and doing it in a way that was fair, impartial, followed the law — even during a pandemic when the rules were unknown — and working with partners in the county to allow people to choose their representatives in government. Elections are the most fundamental way people participate, and pulling those off is the thing I’m most proud of.”