You may not have heard of Diane Rauh, but if you live in Des Moines, she’s affected your life in one way or another. 

For decades, Rauh has been the force behind the scenes who made sure the Des Moines City Council had the proper materials to consider agenda items ranging from mundane to controversial. She recorded the votes using an array of advancing technologies. She cheerfully greeted City Hall visitors who wanted to buy a dog license, pay a parking ticket or spend a few moments sharing their opinions on city politics. 

On Sept. 30, City Clerk Diane Rauh worked her last day in Des Moines’ gloriously beautiful and restored City Hall. 

A couple of weeks before, Business Record photographer Duane Tinkey had captured Rauh’s image in an upstairs office (hers was on the first floor in recent months) that had a sweeping view of the grand hall on the second level just outside the council chambers. On her last day, the city issued a proclamation in her honor, and attached her name to the hospitality area near the clerk’s office, a comfy spot with couches she had requested to help make citizens’ wait to see a clerk or someone in the city manager’s office more pleasant. 

“This all works because of her behind-the-scenes coordination,’ Councilman Chris Coleman said a few days before Rauh called it a career. “She’s like the stage manager. All the actors get all the credit, but it wouldn’t be a show worth a damn without somebody really making sure that everybody knows where to be when, and has the right script and paperwork, and that they’re able to move forward, effectively.” 

The daughter of a school superintendent who taught her the importance of public service, Rauh moved around a lot before graduating from Martensdale-St. Marys High School. Later, she completed a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a minor in communications at Grand View College (now Grand View University).

On July 2, 1984, she started working for the Des Moines clerk’s office. “Two days later was a paid holiday. I thought, ‘I’m going to like this!’” Rauh recalled with a chuckle. 

Rauh, 58, worked her way up to deputy city clerk under City Clerk Donna Boetel-Baker, and the two of them made for a double dose of no-baloney service. The duo kept their senses of humor, however. 

We’re pretty sure when someone gave Rauh a bell for retirement, she surely laughed. (Rauh was in charge of ringing a bell at City Council meetings when speakers — like Academy Award winners thanking their third cousins — talked more than the allotted five minutes for commenting on city services ranging from street paving to police coverage or economic development aid.)

That’s a lot of ringing when you consider she attended 639 council meetings, starting with her first in 1993. Some trivia: The latest the council adjourned was 10:22 p.m. The earliest was 5:07 p.m. 

After a decade as chief deputy clerk, Rauh was promoted to city clerk 16 years ago. 

The upstairs clerk’s office eventually moved to the middle of City Hall’s first floor after a temporary move to an East Village office building while City Hall was being remodeled. The first-floor space is much more convenient for visitors, especially those for whom the wide stairwell leading to the second level is a challenge. 

Rauh prides herself in the service she provided. She didn’t sit in her glass office — usually with the door open — thinking the grunt work should be left to others. In fact, city budget cuts meant she lost two of her nine staff members, making her contribution that much more important. 

Rauh was patient with the many citizens who came in, including the few who were belligerent or didn’t understand the procedures. 

“There’s a quote that my parents made us read all the time where it’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice,” Coleman said. “She embodies that.”

Oh, sometimes you goof. Like the time Rauh was talking to a man who wanted to pay for his retiree health insurance. As she tried to help, Rauh leaned into the counter and her hip accidentally hit the panic button. Two police officers showed up unexpectedly and asked if there was a problem. The retiree thought he was in trouble. He wasn’t. Rauh wasn’t sure what was going on for a moment.

Then there was the day a guy took a sweaty $5 bill out of his shoe to pay for a parking ticket. “I happened to be at the counter that day,” Rauh recalled. She didn’t say whether she accepted the bill, but her expression suggested she did.

Al Setka, the new communications guy on the city staff and a veteran public relations representative, was kind enough to inform Rauh that she has worked in City Hall nearly a third of the time the building has been there. We’re not sure she was totally impressed with that statistic, but she did smile while relaying it.

It’s a good thing she was around because the City Council passed 1,604 ordinances during her tenure. If she and her crew hadn’t been on the job, the pure poetry that is the city code might never have taken its rightful place in history. 

Rauh and her crew helped issue 28 kinds of permits, along with dog licenses, and they accepted payments for the ever-popular parking tickets. 

They addressed the varying needs of council members, and even fielded calls from concerned parties in Des Moines, Wash. (Don’t worry, our friends in Washington state got our calls, too.) 

Advancements are reflected in this stat: About a quarter of all parking tickets are paid online now. Next year, dog licenses should be on sale online, too. 

When Rauh took the job, there were no computers and she and the other clerks typed everything. Then they had 10-inch floppy discs. Now they use sophisticated computers and software but still manage to put out an agenda that, let’s say, has the simple elegance one might expect from something that still came off a typewriter. 

City clerks are typically the very fount of information in a city government. They know everything, because they have to. And Rauh was no exception. 

This is a public servant who watched the East Village rise from an area that had fallen on tough times. The John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park replaced a string of small businesses and abandoned lots. The police force went from focusing on wannabe gang members associated with the Crips and Bloods in Chicago to participating in a neighborhood-improvement effort with their colleagues in the parks, public works and community development departments. 

Rauh and her staff took 24,000 phone calls a year. “We are the home base for everyone else outside. We are like the ombudsman,” Rauh said.

One time Rauh was helping a homeless person navigate the challenging prose of city regulations. She did so patiently, even though she could plainly see that the next person in line was the state attorney general. 

A couple of times a month, she would take her spot in the high-back chair in front of the half-circle-shaped council table. She would call the roll and record the votes – and probably most people in the public thought, “Who is this person?” She just did her job. 

Rauh’s family members were so well-trained to not call on council nights, they played it safe even on days the council didn’t meet. “No one ever calls me on Monday nights at home because they don’t know if I’m at a council meeting or not,” Rauh said with a laugh. “It will be fun to find out what everyone else does on Monday nights.”

There have been trying times when challenges turned into fine moments. Rauh recalls responding to the Flood of ’93 when Des Moines lost power in many areas and tap water everywhere. The city had no computers, and the three-a-day news conferences delivered critical information about where to pick up water, for example, on poster boards. At one point Rauh worked 36 hours straight, fueled by adrenaline. The disaster turned out to be a shining moment for local governments that responded, and it led to a number of initiatives that improved planning and communications among local city and county departments.

Now the city sends out texts when there is trouble. Times change. Even the typewriters go. People who might have called council members, or Rauh, now give their 2 cents’ worth — more with inflation — via email sometimes. 

When former Gov. Robert Ray served as interim mayor from May to November in 1997 after Arthur Davis died, the city staff got a close look at how the elder statesman operated. “He was a delightful man,” Rauh said of Ray. 

When Ray left the post, he sent Rauh a photo and a handwritten note thanking her for her service. He couldn’t help but pose a bit of a question, too: “I always wondered what you were thinking” as the council debated, Ray wrote. 

You could see his mischievous grin just reading the words. Rauh no doubt thought plenty, but she’s not sharing, even now, and her poker face would go a long way at Prairie Meadows. 

“I have been told I have a great poker face,” Rauh said. “So maybe I should end up in Vegas playing poker. Yeah, the clerks used to sit with their backs to the audience and we faced the council and then the remodel came, where we are now facing each other. And so my expressions, you know, can be seen. And it’s not about me and I try not to react, because that doesn’t help anything.”

She kept a straight face when community activist Kalonji Saadiq refused to give up the mic at a council meeting and was arrested, hours after making sure local reporters knew that he planned to get arrested. She kept a straight face when residents of Foster Drive — one of the most expensive neighborhoods in Des Moines, home to CEOs — lined up to complain that the city’s public works assessments on their properties were simply too expensive. She watched Councilman George Flagg rail against the city staff’s alleged inaction, without a flinch. She sat in silence as neighbors from all over town accused the city of spending too much on downtown and business deals and not enough in the neighborhoods. 

The council has police protection during meetings, and for that reason, Rauh said she never felt threatened. “We had a man come to the [lectern] and he had a paper sack full of something. He set it up on the [lectern] and everyone kind of wondered what was going on. But we have two police officers on duty so I was never worried.” (Nothing happened.)

Rauh enjoys volunteering in her spare time, and plans to continue. She won the Governor’s Volunteer Award in 2010, when Chet Culver was in office, for her work helping people with tax returns through United Way. 

Frank Cownie, the longest-serving mayor in Des Moines, said Rauh was a stalwart in city services. “She’s always there. She’s always available for support in good times and bad times. She gives us the information we want and the public needs.”

Said Rauh: “I’ve just been honored to do this and still have fun every day. These people are my second family. You can’t work somewhere 35 years and not realize that these people are your family, too. And I’ll miss them. But you know it’s time to go and spend time with my family.” 

(Bell rings. Time’s up. Good luck, Diane.)