DEL MAR — After more than 25 years, most of them as city clerk, Mercedes Martin is retiring on Dec. 2.
“I feel very lucky,” Martin said at her last City Council meeting on Nov. 18, during which she was presented with a resolution honoring her “exemplary service to the city.”
“Del Mar has been very good to me,” she added. “I’ve really enjoyed the many years I’ve been here.”
Originally from Kansas City, Kan., Martin’s significant other “pulled us out here” in 1988. “I wasn’t too thrilled about living in California,” she said. “But I decided if I was going to move I was going to finish college. I had gone to school on and off but never earned my degree.”
Martin, Don Christiansen and son Eric, who was 2 at the time, settled in Carlsbad, where they still live. In March of that year she was hired as the Planning Department secretary.
“Jim Sandoval was the planning director at the time,” she recalled. “I think he hired me because I was familiar with the word processing program the department was using. I worked full time and went to school at San Diego State part time until I got to the classes that were impacted.
“Jim was very flexible,” she said. “He let me work around my school schedule.”
In 1993, Martin was six months away from earning her Bachelor of Science degree in business administration with an emphasis on information technology.
Del Mar had no IT positions at the time, but the city clerk was retiring so Martin applied for the job.
“There was some crossover,” she said. “And I used the city as the basis for various different IT projects in school. I also worked on a subcommittee to do a technology needs analysis.”
Martin said she and several outsiders applied for the position. “Lauraine Brekke-Esparza, who was the city manager at the time, went with the internal candidate,” she said. “She probably took a little bit of a gamble but I appreciated her confidence in me. Jan. 1, 1994, was my first day as city clerk.”
In fact, when she retires, Martin will be just 29 days short of an even 20 years as the city clerk. Why not wait?
“I don’t have to work through the holidays,” she said.
During her nearly two decades in the position, Martin has sworn in nearly as many council members, attended about 600 City Council meetings, overseen 10 elections and served under six different city managers.
Her primary responsibility on a regular basis was “everything wrapped into council meetings,” she said, including recording all actions taken in several places. She also was responsible for city records and being a resource to staff, council members and the community.
During an election, her main focus was ensuring every candidate was treated fairly and knew all the requirements.
“I didn’t want the election to be painted with details,” she said. “It should be based on merits, not on a late filing. I’m glad to say there were never any major flaws.”
Reading from the resolution at the Nov. 18 meeting, Mayor Terry Sinnott praised Martin for her “many years of loyal and effective service,” serving “tirelessly and faithfully” and “swearing in dozens of new council members, usually without audibly swearing.”
Sinnott said she “survived endless questions on records and retention schedules, always answering with a smile, a sense of humor, not matter what the question,” and ushered the city “through technological advances, starting with stone tablets and bringing us to the age of staff reports and iTablets,”
“We will miss Merc’s good sense of humor, her cheerful attitude, her kindness and her friendship,” he said, noting that Dec. 2, 2013 has been declared Mercedes Martin Day in Del Mar.
“Resolutions are permanent documents … so now I have a little piece of immortality, at least in the city of Del Mar,” Martin said. “I’ve had the pleasure of working here for over 25 years with some remarkable people. Those people include co-workers and council members and also Del Mar residents. Many of those people I consider friends.”
After receiving the resolution at the start of the meeting, Martin had a suggestion for the mayor. “Let’s adjourn this meeting,” she said.
Based on the agenda, Martin presumably knew her last meeting would be lengthy – it lasted five hours – but it wasn’t the longest. She said she remembers at least one going past midnight. There was also the time the power went out but the meeting continued by the light of car headlights.
“There have been lots of memorable times over 25 years,” she said. “It’s been a wonderful experience. I love Del Mar but I’m ready to go to that next phase. … I have some hobbies I’ve ignored over the years and some things I’d like to learn more about.”
Martin said she also plans to travel, which will include regular trips to Del Mar, where her son now lives.