PIEDMONT -- His staffers called him "the best boss we've ever had," and Piedmont Mayor John Chiang said he would miss his "great working partnership and collaboration."
Numerous guests took to the podium to praise the work of Mark Bichsel at his retirement party and "roast" at the Piedmont Community Center on March 15, which was hosted by City Administrator Geoff Grote. Mayor Chiang said Bichsel, 64, of Castro Valley, had taught him a lot about municipal fund accounting. Bichsel has been Piedmont's finance and human resources director for more than 20 years.
"It was great working with you year after year," said Jeff Wieler, a retired CFO and current Piedmont City Council member who served on Piedmont's Municipal Tax Review Committee. "Your audit reports read like something from the Vatican ... we always knew the city was in great hands."
Wieler said it's a great time for Bichsel to retire.
"Coming off a great year, with a great audit, people will look back and say, 'It was never so good as when Mark was here,' " he said.
Some 50 well-wishers mingled over wine and hors d'oeuvres at the retirement reception, including members of Bichsel's family.
"This is great, he's very deserving of this for all he's done for the city," said his son, William Bichsel. "I'm very happy for him ... it's an exciting time for all of us."
City Clerk John Tulloch said he grew up in Piedmont and spent a lot of time at City Hall.
"Mark has been a fixture at City Hall," Tulloch said. "He's done an excellent
job at keeping Piedmont in good financial shape; he helped the city stay afloat financially and not have to make the cuts that other cities had to make."
Bichsel took the podium to acknowledge his family and everyone who had come to wish him well. He also welcomed new Finance Director Eric Cheung.
"He started last week, just in time for budget season," Bichsel joked.
Bichsel gave his successor some advice on dealing with department heads, who he said notoriously show "anxiety and unrest" when their budgets are on the line.
"I always used to say to them, 'Don't worry about your attackers during
budget season, I'm behind you all the way ... though you might need binoculars to find me,'" Bichsel said.
He said a finance director couldn't give a speech without touching on a few numbers.
"That's when people normally exit the building," Bichsel said.
He said he felt a "little lonely" when he first took the job in 1992 -- before passage of a parcel tax -- when the city's coffers were not always flush. He especially thanked Grote and Wieler for their support and friendship in those early years.
"Jeff used to say that we avoided deficits 'by pulling financial rabbits out of the hat,' " Bichsel said. "I was full of trepidation that the
ity would go into deficit if the parcel tax didn't pass."
Bichsel said people think he knows a lot of insider secrets about Piedmont.
" 'You must know where bodies are buried and where the skeletons are,' they say. Yes, I know that. But Piedmont's biggest secret is its employees who are generous, hardworking and always give the extra effort.
"My greatest memory is of a truly giving community with no shortage of volunteer spirit," Bichsel said. "Thank you for letting me be part of the city of Piedmont for the last 20 years."
Grote concluded on a sweet note: "Mark, please do the honors and cut your cake!"