Clovis City Councilman and five-time Mayor Harry Armstrong will officially retire Monday from a 50-year public service career in our community – beginning with a 1966 appointment to the Clovis Planning Commission and a 1970 election to the City Council with 10 consecutive re-elections to that position.
On occasions like this, it is often said that such an event marks the end of an era. But Harry, a man of few words who is rarely prone to political hyperbole, would never use those words to describe his service. Yet, the definition of an era is “a period of time marked by distinctive character or events.” As his colleagues on the council, we would respectfully suggest that his retirement does, in fact, represent the end of an era.
Harry has left an indelible mark on our community. There is the tangible evidence of his leadership, from Highway 168 to the revitalization of Old Town to our new Public Safety headquarters, the Miss Winkles Pet Adoption Center, and the Research and Technology Park.
These are places that have added great value to this community we all love. It is nearly impossible to reflect on any significant contribution in our city over the last 50 years without seeing Harry’s influence.
Maybe as important as the tangible signs of Harry’s leadership are the lessons Clovis’ leading statesman has modeled for all the city’s residents. For those of us sitting next to Harry on the dais, the valuable lessons he has taught us about community, local government, service and leadership are so simple and so fundamental to community service, engaged residents and the long-term success of our city:
Always act in the best interests of Clovis, not in your own self-interest. Agree or disagree as a council, but always be thoughtful, respectful of one another and then act and move on. Treat residents who come before the council with respect, knowing that we serve them and not the other way around.
Always keep your eye on the shared vision of our community. Never confuse a long-term goal for the community with a short-term gain. Do not be distracted by “bright, shiny objects” or the latest scheme to generate revenue. Build a “full service” community and make sure every decision we make is good for today and for the next 50 years.
Never lose sight of the basic competencies of local government and do them consistently well.
Always ensure that our residents are safe, that they have strong public infrastructure, enjoy a clean community, live in a financially sound community and always receive great customer service. In other words, create a government that residents can trust.
Always celebrate and support the staff’s skill and professionalism. Truth be told, in Clovis, the success of our community over the decades has been largely due to the competence of our staff members and their shared commitment to our community.
Harry has led the way in building relationships with the Clovis Unified School District, the Fresno Metropolitan Flood Control District, the Fresno County Council of Governments, Caltrans and every other public agency doing business in our community. He has taught us to make Clovis an easy place to do business for employers large and small.
Harry’s lesson to us all includes the importance of leading locally, regionally and at the state level because our success as a community depends, in part, on the success of the region. That means working together with the city and county of Fresno and all others in our Valley, Sacramento and Washington, D.C. Never compromise our city’s core values in the process.
While Harry’s retirement is the end of an era, it is not the end of his influence. There are many projects underway that will continue to be guided by Harry’s vision – the new Senior Center, library project and expansion of Old Town, just to name a few.
More significantly and more fundamental to our community is the fact that we have all been changed by Harry’s leadership. The quality of our Clovis city government is all the better for that. We on the City Council have become better at our own service because of his lessons.
Harry, if we can carry on your legacy with our own daily actions, that will be our highest tribute to you – and the greatest service to our community.
So, Harry, on behalf of all those who call Clovis “home,” thank you for 50 years of unselfish service. If success is defined as leaving a place better than when you found it, then that surely defines you.
From those of us serving with you on the Clovis City Council, we will never forget perhaps your most important lesson: “Always do the right thing.” That will be our promise to you.
Thank you, Harry.
Lynne Ashbeck is a Clovis City Council member. Mayor Nathan Magsig, Mayor Pro-Tem Bob Whalen and Council member Jose Flores contributed to the writing of this commentary.