Waukon City Clerk Diane Sweeney reflects on 40-year career as her June 19 retirement date approaches

Diane Sweeney

by Bob Beach

After over 40 years of service, Waukon City Clerk Diane Sweeney has announced her retirement. Her last day on the job will be Friday, June 19 and an open house in honor of the occasion has been planned for that day from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Sweeney started working for the City of Waukon December 18, 1974 as the Deputy City Clerk and stepped into her current role August 1, 1987. She calculates that over the years she has attended and recorded the minutes of approximately 800 regular meetings of the Council and she has only missed three such meetings during her career.
She fondly remembers the early days of her tenure, recalling, for example, the years when parking meters graced the streets of Waukon. The coins were collected by the Police Chief and delivered to the City Clerk’s office in pails - as many as seven pails at a time. Her task, as the Deputy Clerk at that time, was to first sort the coins (using a metal Hamm’s tray with holes of various coin sizes), and then bundle them in paper wrappers.
The issuance of bicycle licenses is another fond memory of Sweeney’s, as she hand-recorded information annually at the school while the Police Chief inspected the bicycles.
She also recalls, with less fondness, the trouble she had to go through to issue parking tickets in those days. She had to take the stacks of parking tickets across the street to the courthouse where she would manually search courthouse records to match a name and address to the license plate number and then mail a notice - all for a $1.00 parking ticket.
Similarly, the quarterly issuance of water bills typically took from two to three weeks to complete in the early years, as the entire process was done by hand. “We thought we were in Seventh Heaven when we moved up to a pegboard system,” she said, though that method still required the use of carbon paper that was always difficult to push the pen down hard enough on to make clear copies.
It wasn’t until 1989 that the City got computers, which changed everything. “Before that, bookkeeping was actually done in books. We had all of these huge ledgers,” Sweeney recalls, “But it was okay. We didn’t know any different. It was a lot less stressful then, more relaxed. The world moved slower.”
Sweeney says that the changing nature of her job and the variety of duties are what have kept it interesting throughout the years, but what she has enjoyed most is the people. “I’ve made so many friends through this job,” she says. “I’ve worked with so many different people over the years and when you work with people enough, you start to become friends.”
At the end of her tenure, current Deputy City Clerk and Zoning Administrator Al Lyon will be taking over as City Clerk, who Sweeney says will do a good job. She says that the City Council will likely look at hiring a City Manager in the future, and that it should be seriously considered. “There aren’t many cities anymore that don’t have that kind of leadership,” she said.
Sweeney says she plans to spend much of her free time after retirement with her seven (soon to be eight) grandchildren and to do some volunteer work in an effort to give back to the community.