Windsor town clerk honored; retiring after 31 years
When Windsor Town Clerk Maria De La O first started working as a clerk-typist in October 1990, there was no town.
The only real governing body was the Windsor Water District and its board. She and her husband of four years, Frank, had recently purchased their first home in Windsor, and sought work there.
“We loved the community,” said De La O, 56, who grew up picking fruit with her parents in Santa Rosa. “Windsor had a very small town atmosphere when I started. The same four or five members of the public would attend our meetings and we established relationships with them.”
The town clerk, who retires Nov. 1, said having a background of picking grapes, apples and prunes every summer until she was 14 makes her that much more grateful for the heights that she has achieved.
“I would never have imagined that I would have the opportunity to hold such a noble position and serve the Windsor community,” she said. “I thank my first boss and former Town Manager Matt Mullan for believing in me and giving me this opportunity.”
Her replacement, Irene Camacho-Werby, is a former Windsor deputy town clerk who won De La O’s strong endorsement.
In those early days, there was no internet and the staff was distributing paper copies of agendas to the board, and later, to Town Council members, after the area was incorporated in July 1992. The only places to shop were the Safeway and Raley’s grocery stores, she said.
Since then, the unincorporated community and De La O’s responsibilities have grown, with her moving up the ladder to administrative clerk in 1991, planning administrative secretary in 1993, acting town clerk in 2004 and then becoming part of the executive team as town clerk that same year.
“I’ve worked with Maria for 25 years,” said longtime Councilwoman Deb Fudge. “She’s an amazing town employee who gives her job her all every single day.”
Since that time, De La O and her husband, who works for Ready-Mix near Windsor, have raised two sons, Michael, a student at Sonoma State University and Frank Jr., a nurse at Memorial Medical Center in Santa Rosa.
Juggling long days with council sessions twice a month and many special meetings on other days with raising a family was “a bit of a struggle,” she said.
Since she began, De La O has assisted the council with the development and construction of several hotels, the Shiloh shopping district, a fire station and the Town Green, “which is really a major part of the community now,” she said. “So many thriving restaurants and businesses.”
She also became a certified municipal clerk after attending classes, and is the town’s notary public. She was also active in a county city clerks association.
According to a proclamation issued by the town Wednesday night, De La O “has played a critical role in the decision-making process” of the council. She and her staff are responsible for preparing meeting agendas, as well as recording and later archiving council decisions.
As the town’s elections official, De La O helped candidates meet their legal responsibilities.
Windsor Mayor Sam Salmon, who has worked with De La O for 27 years, said he remembers how she helped him learn “how to be a council member and stuff like that” when the town incorporated.
“She’s just been integral to the support of the council — and me personally — through much of my time with the town, probably much more in the beginning when I needed support,” he said.
The last couple of years have been the “most challenging” for Windsor and for De La O, she said, starting with the 2019 Kincade fire, which began on Oct. 23 — her birthday — while she was on vacation.
She said she had to rush back to not only help staff and residents, but to help her teenage son evacuate.
Then while under evacuation, she learned from friends and relatives who sent her pictures from a national TV broadcast that her house had sustained severe fire damage.
“It was a very difficult and challenging time for me,” she said. “We spent two days in a shelter in Petaluma.”
But Fudge said, “You would never know it from Maria because she was just there working. I said to her ‘That was your house?? Let me know if I can do anything for you.’”
Then came the COVID-19 pandemic, during which the staff started working from home and meetings had to be set up for Zoom.
Then, this past spring, there was the controversy involving former Mayor Dominic Foppoli, who was accused by several women of sexual misconduct and rape. He resigned in May and has denied the accusations.
During that time, she said there was a huge increase in public records requests for her staff to process as the town was in the national spotlight.
One of her proudest accomplishments is overseeing the Windsor’s change from at-large to district elections in 2020.
“That was huge for the town, a big change,” she said. “I am proud of doing more outreach to the Latino community during the election and for all types of projects. We have done a really good job of translating materials to make sure they are engaged.”
After her retirement, De La O said she wants to spend more time with her family and travel “and just kind of relax.”
“I have made many wonderful relationships here. I’m very fond of all the people I work with,” she said. ”It’s just a relief. I feel like, my goodness, my life is starting now. It’s time to leave the town in someone else’s hands.”
You can reach Staff Writer Kathleen Coates at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Windsor and Cloverdale, The Press Democrat
As someone who grew up in a small town, I enjoy covering what's happening in Windsor and Cloverdale, which are growing in their own unique ways. I delve into issues by getting to know people and finding out what’s going on in the community. I also pay attention to animal welfare and other issues that affect Sonoma County.
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