As she says goodbye to the seat she’s held on the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors for 12 years, Roberta MacGlashan remains most proud of the moment that sparked her career in elected office.
The year was 1995 and Citrus Heights was in its 11th year of a cityhood campaign that went all the way to the state Supreme Court. A city and county planner by profession, MacGlashan was tapped to lead the Citrus Heights Incorporation Project through the final stages of its environmental impact report.
“It was a very contentious thing,” said former Rep. Doug Ose, who was an integral part of the incorporation campaign. “There were supervisors who were determined to prevent us, primarily because they wanted to take tax revenue and use it for programs in their own districts. Roberta was just as determined to get us to the ballot. And you see who won.”
In November 1996, residents simultaneously opted for cityhood and elected MacGlashan and four others to the brand new City Council. She went on to serve in local government for 20 years, including the tough economic times of last decade’s recession. Her successor, Sue Frost, will be sworn in on Tuesday.
“I was never interested in going beyond the local government level because that’s the level that’s closest to the people, where I think an elected official can make the biggest difference,” she said. Besides, “statewide, very few people get to be on the ground floor of a brand new city.”
Elk Grove and Rancho Cordova quickly followed suit in bids for cityhood, but Citrus Heights was the first new city in Sacramento County in 50 years.
“It was like a wake-up call (for the county) that suddenly (there were) these three new cities within about six years when there had been just four cities for so long in Sacramento County,” MacGlashan said. “Part of that was that these communities wanted better services, more responsive services, and to control their own destinies.”
When MacGlashan, now 64, threw her hat in the ring for county supervisor in 2003, she hadn’t forgotten the desire for self-determination that had pushed the unincorporated community of Citrus Heights to become a city. She wanted “to see to it that these communities that aren’t cities have a voice in county government,” she said.
MacGlashan’s District 4 – an upside-down “L” in the county’s northeast corner – varies more than any other supervisoral district, with urban, suburban and rural areas. The northern half of the district includes the cities of Folsom and Citrus Heights, and the unincorporated communities of Orangevale, Rancho Murieta, Rio Linda/Elverta, Antelope, and Gold River, where MacGlashan lives. A largely undeveloped section of District 4 stretches south of Highway 50.
Tab Berg, a Sacramento-area political consultant who managed MacGlashan’s campaigns for supervisor, said she was the decided underdog in her first race.
“The establishment had kind of gone with the other candidate,” he said. Incumbent Roger Niello, who moved on to the state Assembly, and outgoing supervisor Muriel Johnson endorsed MacGlashan’s opponent, Bob Walters.
Campaigning doesn’t come naturally to MacGlashan. She acknowledges she’s not a gifted public speaker. Berg said her first campaign for supervisor focused instead on her determination, her intelligence and her genuine desire to serve her constituents.
The 2004 November race ended in a dead heat. Berg said MacGlashan was ahead by six votes on election night, though she eventually won by 520 votes. No one challenged her in 2008, and she narrowly avoided a runoff in 2012 against two liberal opponents.
MacGlashan said it was quite an adjustment moving from a relatively young city with a general fund budget of $34 million and about 50 employees to a 150-year old governmental organization then employing 14,000 people with a multibillion-dollar budget.
To get to know her new district, MacGlashan continued her two predecessors’ tradition of holding public meetings in each community once a month or once every two months, depending on the area. She estimated she’s held more than 500 community meetings during her time on the board.
District 4 is the only county district with more registered Republicans than Democrats, which MacGlashan said factored into her decisions on the dais. For example, she said she never voted for a tax increase.
MacGlashan has always been clear that she views law enforcement and public safety as the most important services provided by local governments.
“She made no secret of the fact that she was very pro-law enforcement,” said former Sacramento County Sheriff John McGinness. “There were a couple of occasions when she came out of her usual genteel mode of behavior and took a hard line on those things.”
MacGlashan said serving at the county level opened her eyes to the other important services the county provides, such as health and human services, including mental health and child protective services.
Her ability to listen and consider other viewpoints is lauded by friends and colleagues who describe MacGlashan as an eminently calm person who is fiercely loyal, reliable and methodical.
“When you think of someone running for office, you think of someone extroverted, maybe even a ham,” McGinness said. “She’s much more subdued … She’s thoughtful. She’s very knowledgeable, but she’s not the back-slapping kind of politician.”
When the recession hit the county, MacGlashan and her fellow supervisors grappled with huge tax deficits that resulted in more than 1,000 layoffs and drastic service cuts. She points to those votes as the most difficult decisions she had to make as a supervisor.
“Really no department went unscathed,” she said. “It wasn’t just any one decision but a series of decisions.”
Supervisor Don Nottoli said MacGlashan was consistent and fair-minded about the choices facing the board in those years.
“Those were tough votes for all of us,” Nottoli said. MacGlashan had to “be strong and to be fair. She had to be willing to work with her colleagues even if there were differences, in some cases going in knowing there will be some differences.”
He said her collaborative approach led to budgets that may not have been everyone’s first choice, but were approved unanimously.
The decades MacGlashan spent as a city and county planner came in handy as the county grappled with land-use decisions and development project approvals, particularly the general plan update that the county discussed for seven years before passing it in 2011. Hefty environmental reports didn’t faze her; she’d written some herself.
“Honestly, the part I won’t miss is spending my weekends reading hundreds or thousands of pages of material,” she said. “But I felt it was important to do that because you make better decisions when you have all the information that’s possible.”
MacGlashan announced her decision to retire last year. Her husband retired recently, and she said they’re looking forward to being free of the board’s rigorous schedule. She’s thinking about volunteering with the California Capital Airshow, a personal favorite, but otherwise she’s keeping her options open.
“I’m looking forward to not having a schedule,” she said.