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Bishop saying goodbye to the ‘heart of the city’

February 15, 2013

Bishop City Administrator Keith Caldwell (r) described soon-to-retire City Clerk Denise Gillespie (back left) as “my right hand and my left.” Of Gillespie’s successor, Robin Pickens (seated), he said, “She comes highly recommended.” Pickens started Feb. 8 and Gillespie will retire Feb. 28. Photo by Marilyn Blake Philip

The hub of the wheel that is city hall will soon be replaced when the current city clerk retires at the end of the month.
Executive Secretary/Assistant City Clerk Denise Gillespie’s official title gives some indication of the extensiveness her duties. She has executed them so deftly for the last 15 years that Public Works Director David Grah said, “She’s been the heart of the city.”
In 1999, Gillespie left Big Pine Schools to work for the City of Bishop. She went from doing “everything from playground aide to classroom aide to the school site secretary” to working directly with city department heads and administrators.
District 3 Supervisor Rick Pucci was the city administrator who hired and worked with her for more than a decade. “It was my pleasure to have worked with Denise. (There was no task) she couldn’t do or couldn’t figure out how to do … She is absolutely a part of all of the city’s successes. It will be a loss to the city but she is leaving on such a good note” that Pucci is certain she will facilitate the smooth transition of her successor, Robin Pickens.
Gillespie’s current supervisor, City Administrator Keith Caldwell, said she was of invaluable help in his 2007 transition into the community services directorship and then again later, when he became city administrator. His very first impression of Gillespie “still stands. She is for complete customer care – ‘We care about our citizens.’ And I have never seen that waiver. Denise makes people feel right at home.” Furthermore, “she’s been my right hand and my left. She is a wealth of knowledge and history.”
Police Chief Chris Carter agreed. “The whole machine would stop if she didn’t do her job but that has never been the case. She is a huge servant of the city and its employees, always pleasant, available. She is dedicated, one of the hardest working people I have ever met. She will be sorely missed.”
Grah spoke of Gillespie’s leadership skills. “She doesn’t run meetings” but she is their voice, Grah said. “People focus on her tactical leadership. Through all the votes and motions, all eyes turn to her. Denise has managed all the business of the city” from having meetings catered to maintaining insurance policies to locating archived city records.
“She has also provided great administrative staff leadership for the city,” Grah added.
“I keep everybody doing what they need to do, keeping it all organized is so key,” Gillespie said.
Finance Department Assistant Director Cheryl Solesbee, whom Gillespie refers to as her buddy and her key contact throughout the work day, simply said, “She will be missed terribly. She is an asset to the city, an extremely organized and detailed co-worker. And she is a dear friend; I know we’ll be keeping in touch.”
However, the only thing that stays the same is change and the new city clerk, Pickens, who was chosen from among 42 applicants, “comes highly recommended,” Caldwell said.
Pickens was the personnel and risk manager for the town of Mammoth Lakes. She joined the City of Bishop on Feb. 8.
Gillespie had a few words of advice for her successor. “Expect to feel a part of the city family. It is a great place to work. Bring a hat rack; you’ll wear a lot of hats. There is never a boring day.” The trick to working with diverse personalities, is “a low boiling point.”
Her favorite anecdote involves a visit to city hall by royalty. “One afternoon, a Russian prince came in, in Bermuda shorts,” wanting to talk to the mayor. He had all “the credentials” and the accent. It turned out he was looking for donations for some cause. “Before it was all over, I got kissed on the hand, three times, by a prince.”
To help her accomplish the lengthy laundry list of city clerk duties, Gillespie said she relies on a ready smile, the enjoyment of keeping busy and organized and the feeling “you get when you finish a project.”
Gillespie tried to quantify some of her accomplishments. She produced 1,776 pages of city council meetings and processed 59 ordinances and 290 resolutions. “And I was privileged to have worked with 11 council members.”
Greatest challenge? City elections. “If you are lucky, you only have one every two years but they are far enough apart that you have to learn it over and over again, including new election laws.”
Life-long learning is important to Gillespie who has been involved with Bishop Union High School’s Council on Campus since its inception in 2012. She has a word of encouragement for young people. “I learned shorthand and keyboarding, typing class, back then, at (BUHS) and I use them every day.” College business classes enhanced those skills. “Take opportunities to learn something new … Take advantage of what’s out there; you can make a career out of it.”
Teary-eyed, Gillespie said it will be “sad going because I’ll miss the routine and the people. This is a great bunch to work with … like a family. I’m not good at good-byes.”
As to retirement plans, Gillespie wants to spend more time with her nine grandchildren, aged six months to 15 years. “They are growing up so fast and I feel I have missed so much already … I would love to take a trip with my husband Gary, somewhere that is not connected to a medical appointment.” She also said she has “lots of projects I want to do” like planning the Class of ‘68 high school reunion.
But for now, Gillespie looks forward to “just being at home, to stop during a day’s activities and do whatever I doggone want to do … I don’t want regrets, that I didn’t take care of myself.”
Gillespie’s long term plans are to “enjoy each day as it comes.”

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