It’s not for nothing that Sally Kilby is known as Ms. South Pasadena.
Or Ms. City Hall. As South Pasadena’s city clerk, Kilby has been the keeper of
the city’s official records, the administrator of its contracts, the receiver
of legal documents, not to mention the nonpartisan coordinator of municipal elections. What's more, she’s the go-to person for everything from city trivia to claims and sensitive public
records requests. In fact, no other city employee serves so many public servants—the
mayor, the city council, the city manager and the various administrative
In precisely two weeks, Kilby’s lively 13-year career as city clerk will come to an end as she steps down from her post. To quote her from her speech in the council chambers last month, she no longer will she “assist people through the intricacies of submitting candidacy papers, hearings, arranging for special recognitions, handling appeals, planning and building, tree issues, voting issues, claims, complaints, speaking at city council meetings, reaching city council, and a plethora of other important issues.” In short, an era will come to an end.
South Pasadena Patch recently sat down with Miss Pasadena in the city manager’s conference room at City Hall to ask her about her checkered career and what it’s like to have lived in South Pasadena.
South Pasadena Patch: Back in 2000, why did you decide to run for city clerk?
Sally Kilby: I was working as a medical librarian and my job was being threatened in a hospital when neonatal intensive care unit nurses were being laid off. I saw an article in the paper, saying the existing city clerk was leaving, and I just decided to apply. I had some experience with aspects of the job, such as [keeping] records, but frankly, I did not know what I was getting into and didn’t know the scope of the job.
Patch: What was it like?
Kilby: I had to learn quickly because there was no one here to tell me what to do. I did rely on other colleagues, the city attorney at the time, the city clerk from San Marino and professional organizations. But I had to be one step ahead of the questions that were coming in. And that’s what has made me come to the conclusion that it would be best to have a separated position, where the city clerk who’s elected does not have to be an expert in the field—as a person running the office, answering questions about the Brown Act, publishing, filing forms for the Fair Political Practices Commission, and many legal, deadline-type of things. I felt that if the city had a professional who had experience in those areas would bring more to the city.
So, after learning all those things over many years, I felt it would be better if the next person didn’t have to learn from ground zero.
Patch: What were some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced?
Kilby: Trying to be fair to every side. There were different sides of every issue and our office had to maintain a neutral position and help find the information they needed, whether it was redevelopment or recall information or an initiative or referendums or different political campaigns.
Patch: Were there moments when you felt like quitting?
Kilby: (Laughs.) I can’t say that. But I must say that when I first experienced my 18-hour day, I was a little surprised because even when I was a nurse I didn’t really work that long.
Patch: What would you say has been your toughest assignment or set of assignments?
Kilby: I have overseen 10 elections—almost one a year. And I had proposed a few years ago to consolidate with the County of Los Angeles because of the overwhelming responsibilities of conducting our own stand-alone elections. And the city council approved that. But I think when we were doing our own elections, all the requirements that a big city would have still exit for a small city. It was daunting.
Patch: Would you say it’s the most demanding job in City Hall?
Kilby: I can’t say that it is because I see people working late hours as well.
Patch: How long have you lived in South Pasadena?
Kilby: About 20 years.
Patch: Where did you live before that?
Kilby: In Glendale.
Patch: And why did you choose to come to South Pas?
Kilby: For the schools. I moved here for my son to start middle school and my daughter was in elementary school. They both completed the school system. We’ve been very fortunate to have the experience we’ve had here. My son’s in medical school and my daughter has a good job at a nonprofit, Hathaway Sycamores.
Patch: What do you like about South Pas?
Kilby: It’s a diverse town with different income groups. You go into the grocery store and you know people there. You know their kids, and they know your children. In Glendale, I never met anybody I knew.
Patch: What’s the one thing you like the most about South Pas?
Kilby: There’s a real commonality of interests in having the best schools, the best city—there are different groups that have specific targets they’re focused on. Every Saturday night we have Tiger Bingo, and it raises tons of money for the high school. Parents volunteer.
Patch: Why are you leaving?
Kilby: I knew that I would have to run again for election. I thought it was a good time to stop. I wasn’t going to run four more years.
Patch: You didn’t want to put in another four years.
Patch: Thirteen’s been enough.
Patch: The city clerk’s position is an important one in any city. So, given that you were always elected unopposed, why have there not been contestants for the post other than yourself?
Kilby: I don’t think that’s always been the case. I think people felt I was doing a good job. Anyone who did run for it [the post] from the community would have to have been a full-time person. I also don’t know if people felt they had the skills to do the job.
Patch: There are a lot of good things about South Pasadena. What are a couple of things you don’t like about it? Is there anything that stands out? What would you fix if you had the power?
Kilby: I would just love to have more revenue to fix our infrastructure. It is desperate. We are slowly moving forward on it. But it’s still a drop in the bucket.
Patch: What are some of the ways in which you think the city can raise more revenue? Is attracting good businesses the key?
Kilby: This is something that city councils over the years since I’ve been here have been trying to figure out. And we have not really come up with something that is satisfactory to the residents. The residents would not want a big box store. And some of the residents have opposed the redevelopment project across the street. That was very controversial several years ago, and now the process is starting again. So, there are some segments of the population that don’t want to grow or to have more living units or large types of stores because that would bring more traffic and parking problems.
Patch: It’s a tough one to crack.
Kilby: It is.
Patch: Is it your sense that things will change as the generations change?
Kilby: I guess it will depend on the nature of the city council. And it will depend on how many resources we can afford to put into economic development.
Patch: What are your plans in the immediate to near future?
Kilby: Just be with my family. I have a big house. I’m going to fix it up.
Patch: What’s the one advice you’d give to your successors in both the roles of employee and city clerk?*
Kilby: For the employee, I’d say stay on top of everything—ahead of all the issues that are coming up so that the office can be prepared to handle them appropriately. To the city clerk I’d say maintain good relationships with all the different groups in town.
*Kilby’s successor, Evelyn Zneimer, was elected unopposed in the Nov. 5 municipal elections. Zneimer will, however, not be a full-time city employee because Kilby’s job is being split into two, and its day-to-day responsibilities will be carried out by Deputy City Clerk Desiree Jimenez.