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Four city clerks in San Mateo County received awards from the City Clerks Association of California during a virtual ceremony last week.

At the April 23 ceremony, they were recognized for their communication and outreach efforts in 2020, a year defined by the COVID-19 pandemic, census outreach and the presidential election.

San Mateo City Clerk Patrice Olds won a Municipal Clerk of the Year award along with Marc Donohue, city clerk of Eastvale in Riverside County.

Olds has served as city clerk for San Mateo since 2012. In addition to documenting city processes and creating transparency between the city and the public, Olds said she enjoys being somewhat of a historian and librarian for the city.

“In 2019, we held the 125th birthday celebration for the city of San Mateo and we were able to pull up the original handwritten minutes and show what they first talked about and when they got approval to become a town,” Olds said. “I love being a steward of that history for the city.”

“Up and down the state of California every city clerk and city clerk crew has just risen to the occasion.”

Patrice Olds, San Mateo city clerk

Olds also served as CCAC president in 2020 and had to make the difficult decision of canceling their annual conference due to the pandemic. It is just one of many adjustments she has had to make during the pandemic, as city council meetings became virtual and city clerks navigated new technologies to keep meetings accessible.

“Up and down the state of California every city clerk and city clerk crew has just risen to the occasion,” Olds said.

In addition to her city clerk duties, Olds is a liaison between the city of San Mateo and their sister city, Toyonaka, Japan. She coordinates the youth baseball exchange program in which a high school baseball team from their city visits Toyonaka every couple years, and vice versa. She is also working on a “Fallen Heroes Memorial” to recognize residents who died while serving in the military, along with police officers and firefighters who died in the line of duty. The memorial will be featured in the city’s Central Park.

San Mateo City Clerk Patrice Olds receives her Municipal Clerk of the Year award. (Video courtesy of City Clerks Association of California/YouTube)

East Palo Alto City Clerk Walfred Solorzano received a Clerks of Distinction award for Organization, Communications and Administration. Solorzano managed a project to redesign the city’s website and improved the city’s communications, which now include bilingual messaging via a weekly newsletter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, WhatsApp and TikTok.

“Our (social media) audiences have all exponentially increased since I started here,” Solorzano said. “We’re much more present to the public and that’s been part of the achievement.”

Solorzano’s communications plan also helped the city reach a record number of census respondents: 66 percent. He also led efforts to index more than 2,500 record boxes, a project he said could take several years.

One of the things Solorzano enjoys about his work is interacting with different community groups and seeing how people in East Palo Alto care about social justice.

He also praised each of the city’s councilmembers, as they advocate for the city, volunteer and share information about tenants’ rights.

“This isn’t just a council that talks about it, but they really walk the walk. It’s great working for leaders like that,” Solorzano said.

Many receive honors

Elsewhere in San Mateo County, Caitlin Corley, city clerk of the town of Colma, received a Clerks of Distinction award for community engagement. Corley helped seniors use Zoom when meetings became virtual, promoted voter registration in past years and pushed for the installation of a permanent ballot dropbox at City Hall.

She also manages the city’s Community Emergency Response Team, asking members to check on neighbors and assist seniors with groceries and other essential errands.

Meaghan Hassel-Shearer, city clerk of Burlingame, won a Clerks of Distinction award for Election Coordination and Voter Outreach. Hassel-Shearer helped educate youths about the importance of voting, designed an outreach campaign for the 2020 Presidential Election and ensured that the city had several ballot dropboxes. She is also leading the city’s efforts to transition to district-based elections.

Other awardees include Stephanie Smith, retired city clerk of Murrieta in Southern California, who won the Pat Hammers Spirit Award for her passion and leadership; Caitlin Saldanha of Napa who won the Deputy Clerk of the Year award; and Celeste Cabrera-Garcia, city clerk of Mendota in Fresno County, who won the Clerks of Distinction Humanitarian/Good Samaritan Award.

Between making virtual meetings accessible and responding to public record requests while working from home, the last year has been challenging for city clerks, according to CCAC Board President Anthony Mejia, who also serves as city clerk of Palm Springs.

But they work together and hold virtual roundtables to discuss how to operate in this new world.

“We’re adaptive in bringing new technologies and we’re very solutions-oriented,” Mejia said.

As for the future, Mejia anticipates city council meetings will take on a hybrid model, where people can attend in person or virtually.

More information about the CCAC awards and each of the winners can be found on the organization’s website.