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June 19, 2013

After decades of experience, city clerk, attorney retire

By Kristyne E. Demske
C & G Staff Writer

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After decades of experience, city clerk, attorney retire
Utica City Attorney William McGrail, who will retire after 41 years with the city at the end of the month, sits June 10 with his wife, Cathy McGrail, who retired as city clerk May 15.

UTICA — With almost 70 combined years of service to the city, William and Cathy McGrail are retiring from their posts as city attorney and city clerk, respectively.

“You’re definitely going to miss it. It can’t be that much a part of your life and not miss it,” said Cathy McGrail, 66, who retired from her position as Utica’s City Clerk May 15.

“It’s been a fun ride.”

Her husband, 71-year-old William McGrail, will retire as the Utica city attorney June 30. He began as the assistant city attorney in 1972 and the couple moved to Utica in 1976, raising two sons and a daughter in that time.

Working in a small city, Cathy McGrail said, they didn’t have to be “hung up” on all the bureaucracy.

“All the elected officials and department heads worked together and got along,” she said. “We let the entertainment stay to the other communities. We just got the business done.”

William McGrail said he will miss many things about his 41 years with the city, but “it won’t be the meetings. I know that.”

“Just the people that you interact with. … I’m definitely going to miss that interaction,” he said. “All of those people with such a small community.

“My observations, from knowing of other communities, (is that) this is the most friendly community for trying to get something accomplished.”

Utica Mayor Jacqueline Noonan said city officials were surprised to hear they would be losing both McGrails within months of each other.

“Overall, people who dedicate their professional career to public service are to be applauded,” Noonan said. “It’s not an easy task. It certainly is not easy when they share the same household — that makes it sometimes even more of a challenge.”

And since Noonan’s time as mayor has overlapped with her husband’s time as fire chief — she was first elected mayor in 1987 and he retired in 1995 — she said she really does know.

“I really think both of them demonstrated the highest level of professionalism in their individual careers and always had the best interests of the city at heart,” she said.

Noonan said that in the time since Cathy McGrail was hired in 1984, she was an expert at multitasking and had no problem taking on the continually larger duties of a city clerk.

William McGrail, Noonan said, always gave her “his very best legal shot.”

“When I became mayor, that was what I asked,” Noonan said, explaining that she told him: “Don’t ever tell me what you think I want to hear.

“He definitely lived up to that over the years.”

“Between the two of them, it really was a bargain for the city,” Noonan said.

Beth Ricketts, who began work with the city in 1993 and was most recently the deputy city clerk, was appointed as the new Utica city clerk May 16. Noonan said the deputy city clerk position will not be filled.

“It’s unfortunate that (that is) the only answer when cities are in such financial straits,” Noonan said.

As for the position of city attorney, Noonan said City Council is still debating what to do. One option would be to stick with other individuals in McGrail’s firm — including his son, James McGrail, who has worked with his father on city business for almost a decade. Otherwise, Noonan said, council could put the matter out to bid from other firms and choose one through a selection process.

In their retirement, the McGrails are looking forward to spending more time with their five grandsons, who live in Clinton Township, taking the boys — who range from 1 to 11 years old — to Walt Disney World and their cottage in Algonac.

Before she retired, McGrail said, “There was not a lot that could be done in the daytime.

“Now, it’s free rein.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Kristyne E. Demske at kdemske@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1041.