North Adams City Clerk Gomeau sees pending retirement as 'bittersweet'

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NORTH ADAMS — She served through three mayors, 27 city councilors and three presidential elections.

After 15 years as city clerk, Marilyn Gomeau will retire this month and forgo another three-year term. "It's bittersweet," she said.

Gomeau's retirement plan: spend more time with her son and grandchildren in New Hampshire.

The city clerk — it's a position appointed by the City Council, and it carried a $53,611 salary in 2018 — is a backbone of city government, handling an array of responsibilities that include overseeing elections, recording documents and meeting minutes for the City Council, processing licenses, conducting an annual citywide survey, storing vital records and more.

An ad hoc City Council committee formed to find Gomeau's replacement will recommend that current Assistant City Clerk Deborah Pedercini take on the role effective Jan. 25.

Gomeau, 67, got her start in city government as a census taker in 1976 — before the annual city census was mailed out.

"That's when we were knocking on doors," Gomeau recalled. "Ten cents a name, we used to get."

While raising her son, Gomeau was a part-time hairdresser at a salon in Adams for 20 years until the death of her husband in 1994.

"Unfortunately, my life took a big change, and I had to leave that job and find something that was going to support myself and my son," Gomeau said.

Having worked for the census, Gomeau knew then-City Clerk Mary Ann Abuisi.

"Obviously, Mary Ann saw something in me and had faith in me to do this," Gomeau said. "She was a great mentor, and I was very willing to learn."

Abuisi told The Eagle she was looking for someone with attention to detail.

"Marilyn just was that person," Abuisi said.

Gomeau took a job as a part-time clerk in the office in September 1995, knowing that a senior clerk would retire and leave an opening in 1996. In October 1997, she was appointed by the City Council as the assistant city clerk.

Abuisi took Gomeau under her wing.

"She knew the ordinance book inside and out and used to say to me when I first came here: `You should read the ordinance book,' " Gomeau recalled. "I'm thinking, `Oh, dear God, are you kidding me?' But there was a reason for that, because it's important that you know the ordinance."

Abuisi said the clerk has to be conscientious, detailed, friendly and outgoing.

"She was very good and I felt very, very confidant when I stepped down that she could be do the job," Abuisi said.

When Abuisi retired in 2004, Gomeau was appointed to fill in her unexpired term until 2005, when she was appointed to her first full, three-year term as city clerk.

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Of the many facets of the job, Gomeau loved her duties handling elections the most.

"It's a very challenging part of the job, but a very rewarding part of the job when you finish and it all comes together in the end," she said.

The clatter of a typewriter still reverberates through the office, and historical documents are still secured in a vault, but many facets of the city clerk's duties have evolved or become digitized.

"When I first started here, there was nothing in this office that wasn't typed," Gomeau said. "Now, we type very little."

Gomeau is not the first in her family to be involved in city government. Her grandfather, Thomas Quinn, was president of the City Council in 1951 — the same year Gomeau was born.

"When I think about it now, maybe part of it was in my blood — maybe that's why I enjoyed it so much," Gomeau said.

It's easy to think of the city clerk as a keeper of birth records and marriage licenses, but "there's so much more involved in that," said Keith Bona, the longest-serving city councilor and its current president.

Bona described the clerk as the "keeper of the vault," holding information that pertains to almost every piece of the city's history. If councilors want to know why a certain ordinance was enacted in the mid-20th century, they rely on the city clerk to enter the literal vault inside her office and track down information.

"It always amazed me how Mary Ann [Abuisi] and Marilyn know right where to go in that vault," Bona said. "You go in and ask, 'Why did we make this ordinance 50 years ago,' and within a couple of minutes they know right where to go to find that."

In fact, Abuisi and Gomeau had a rule.

"If you can't find it in 15 seconds, it didn't happen," Abuisi said.

The clerk also is responsible for managing the City Council's paperwork and keeping its meeting minutes.

The council, especially its president, increasingly has leaned on the clerk to help guide it through procedures.

"Even councilors that have been there a long time — we don't always know the process," Bona said.

The mayor's most direct connection with the clerk is in preparing ordinance proposals, orders and other items of business before every City Council meeting.

All four of former Mayor Richard Alcombright's terms coincided with Gomeau's time as city clerk.

"Sometimes I would get bit irritated — I'd look at things as being nitpicky, but I grew to understand why things had to be as exact as they did," Alcombright recalled.

Mayor Thomas Bernard, who took office in January, described Gomeau's departure as a loss of institutional knowledge for the city.

"I've been incredibly grateful to Marilyn over the course of this year. She's been a really good partner to me," Bernard said. "She's kept me from making mistakes; she's helped me understand how things are done [and] why they're done."

Adam Shanks can be reached at ashanks@berkshireeagle.com, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.


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