Tears flowed and occasional bursts of laughter filled the room on Tuesday as colleagues honored the career of outgoing Tuolumne County Administrator Craig Pedro.
Pedro, 59, will retire at the end of the month after 38 years in public service, 34 of which has been with the county his family has called home for more than five generations.
“I was called to public service,” he said. “What higher calling could there be than to serve your fellow man?”
Dozens of current and former colleagues, employees, family members and friends attended the ceremony honoring Pedro in the county Board of Supervisors chambers.
Pedro will leave as the longest-serving county administrator and fifth to hold the position since it was created in 1978. Prior to that, the position was called “administrative services officer” and didn’t have as many responsibilities as it does today.
Many people who spoke at Tuesday’s ceremony talked about Pedro’s dedication to the job that often lasted long after most other county employees had gone home for the day and even into the weekends.
“There’s a lot of people who can carry the title and collect the check and show up, but Craig is a true diplomat,” said District 3 Supervisor Evan Royce, who was about 2 years old when Pedro started working for the county. “Craig is a true statesman and public servant.”
Pedro said his interest in public service was sparked while he was a student at Sonora High School during a visit from U.S. Rep. John Garamendi, who was in the California State Assembly at the time.
It was during the height of the Watergate scandal that took down former U.S. President Richard Nixon when cynicism about government was rampant, but Pedro remembers Garamendi telling students, “If you want good government, you need good people to get into government.”
“There’s a nobility to public service,” Pedro said on Tuesday.
Pedro graduated from Sonora High and attended Fresno State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in public administration with a minor in business.
In 1980, Pedro got his first government job as an administrative analyst with the City of Madera. He returned to his hometown in 1984 after getting hired as a management analyst in the Tuolumne County Administrative Office.
Some notable projects Pedro worked on early in his career included the first leg of the Sonora Bypass and coordinating emergency responses to both the 1986 floods and 1987 Stanislaus Complex Fire.
Pedro was hired as county administrator in 2006, succeeding the late C. Brent Wallace.
One of Pedro’s first tasks in the role was also described in the resolution honoring his career as also being one of the most complex and heart wrenching — overseeing the closure of the county-operated Tuolumne General Hospital.
“It wasn’t a pretty thing to have to do and certainly wasn’t pleasant, but I think he did it absolutely right,” said District 5 Supervisor Karl Rodefer. “From a fiscal standpoint, this county would be bankrupt today if we hadn’t done that.”
Pedro also guided the county through the 2008 economic recession that resulted in cutbacks and layoffs.
Rodefer said he believes the county is in “fundamentally solid fiscal shape” because of Pedro and the tough decisions he’s had to make over the years.
One of the final major projects of Pedro’s career has been shepherding the long-planned Law and Justice Center toward completion.
Representatives from offices of Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, Congressman Tom McClintock, Assemblyman Frank Bigelow, and State Sen. Tom Berryhill all honored Pedro on Tuesday with formal proclamation thanking him for his service.
Matt Reed, of McClintock’s office, noted how Pedro was typically the one calling to make sure longtime, dedicated county employees receive federal recognition for their work upon their retirements.
Assistant County Administrator Tracie Riggs will succeed Pedro at the start of the new year. She was seated on Tuesday at the end of the lectern with the Board of Supervisors where Pedro sat during public meetings for the past 12 years.
“I wouldn’t be sitting up here today if it wasn’t for you,” she said. “You saw things in me that I didn’t, and still sometimes don’t see.”
Riggs said she couldn’t look directly at Pedro while making her comments to him because she would start crying, to which Pedro joked while wiping tears from his eyes, “I’m solid as a right now. Do you have any tissues?”
Pedro first thanked the team he’s worked with over the years, whom he said were instrumental in his success. He also thanked his family who were seated in the front row, including his wife, Ruth, and their three grown children, William, James, and Christa.
He announced his retirement in June and cited his desire to spend more time with his family as the primary reason for the decision.
A lunch reception for Pedro was held at the Sonora Opera Hall on Tuesday after the ceremony.