2013 has been a very big year for Falls Church City native Tom Clinton.
It’s a tough thing to sort out, where the lines are between City of Falls Church Commissioner of the Revenue Tom Clinton, friend to local business Tom Clinton, and community activist Tom Clinton. Maybe there aren’t definite lines between these roles. Maybe he’s better described as a citizen, a native of Falls Church who’s built a career here, started a family here, and calls The Little City home.
It’s his good citizenship that earned him two of Falls Church’s most prestigious awards in 2013, an unprecedented achievement. He was awarded the Wayne and Jane Dexter Award, the highest honor bestowed by Citizens for a Better City, and the Pillar of the Community Award, which was awarded by the Greater Falls Church Chamber of Commerce, going to a City employee for the first time since the award’s inception. Moreover, he is unopposed on the ballot this November for another term as Commissioner of the Revenue.
It’s not uncommon to see Clinton’s blue pickup truck (with the official “Com Rev” plates) driving through the streets of Falls Church heading to this community event or that, the bed full of coolers, tables, and other supplies.
Just this Tuesday, he volunteered at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School’s well-attended ice cream social. He’s often called upon to tend bar at local community events, News-Press mixers included. He’s even served as master of ceremonies for some City events.
He attends City Council meetings, trying to stay informed on local issues. He’s also co-host of the News-Press’ live TV show broadcast prior to all City Council meetings. And his civic organization memberships are many; he’s part of the Village Preservation and Improvement Society, the Falls Church Housing Corporation, the Falls Church League of Women Voters, and more.
“Some people don’t do what I do, to the extent that I do it. It’s just my choice,” Clinton said. “It doesn’t feel like work; it just keeps me in touch with people and keeps me in touch with the issues of the day.”
But during his workday, Clinton fulfils the duties of his title, which he’s held since January 2002. As Commissioner of the Revenue, Clinton and his staff assess nearly all non-real estate taxes collected by the City, including meals taxes, hotel taxes, utility taxes, and business license taxes. About 20 percent of the City’s budget is a result of those assessments. His office also handles automobile taxes, which led to the opening of Falls Church’s DMV Select office.
Such satellite Department of Motor Vehicles offices had seen success in rural communities, and some commissioners sought for similar programs to come to urban areas to alleviate the pressures on overburdened DMV offices.
Clinton launched the partnership in March 2006, and he says it was a “natural marriage” that made his office a convenient one-stop shop for all things automobile without the long lines and aggravation of a trip to the DMV.
“To bring the small-town personal service that we’re known for to DMV work, people are just thrilled,” Clinton said.
His staff of seven took on the added DMV Select duties, in addition to their assessing responsibilities which grew along with the City. His staff handles about 26,000 DMV Select transactions a year; to address the added workload, the office was able to add a new position this year, marking the first staff expansion since Clinton was elected.
Clinton had never considered a political position for himself. After failing to win a CBC nomination for City Council in 1990, he was active in local politics, but only behind the scenes and working on the behalf of other candidates. But when his predecessor retired, he saw the opportunity to serve his community.
Clinton is a lifetime City of Falls Church resident. He graduated from the City’s school system and, as the eighth of nine children, had to pay his way through higher education at what’s now Shepherd University in West Virginia, earning his bachelor’s degree in business administration (with a concentration in marketing) and political science in 1987. It was there that he met his wife, and the pair now live in the City where he was raised, where they now raise their two children. His mother also still holds forth in the family home on Hillwood Avenue.
Clinton returned to Falls Church upon graduation, substitute teaching at George Mason High School. He ran a real estate business for more than a decade and worked for some government contractors before he mounted his campaign for the Commissioner of the Revenue post. He won election to his first four-year term. He’s been re-elected in uncontested races in the two terms that followed, and is now preparing for his third.
With characteristic humility, Clinton says his position is “just about helping people.” That same humble nature comes through when he discusses the honors the past year has brought him. He says he was surprised to have received them, but adds that his hard work for and dedication to the citizens of Falls Church were what earned him the honors. Clinton may have earned these lifetime achievement awards at the tender age of 48, but they don’t mark for him a culmination of his duty to the community. In fact, they’ve done quite the opposite.
“It makes me want to double-down,” Clinton said. “I’m definitely not done. I’m not finished.”