Welcome to the blog series, “The Local Government Nerve Center” — all about the amazing and important work of clerks and recorders. Want to be a contributor? Learn more here.
As a municipal clerk, I’ve experienced the “Oh, that’s interesting” response from people who have asked what I do for a living. The polite smile and raised eyebrows are certain signs that they really have no idea what a clerk does, just that it’s some kind of a government job. This makes some of them nervous, but the brave ones will ask, “So, what does that mean exactly?” As I have tried to explain what I do in non-clerk terms, my description has often ended up sounding rather milquetoast, not at all like the engaging, challenging, and fulfilling work that it really is. So, I’ve imagined a clerk delivering an “elevator speech” about what a city clerk actually does; 30 seconds to educate about local government, correct misconceptions, and hopefully spark an interest in how a city gets things done for its residents.
Scene: A city clerk, attending the IIMC annual conference, steps into the elevator at the end of a great day filled with information gathering and networking. Her name badge is still dangling on its lanyard, boldly proclaiming her title of “City Clerk.” Another hotel guest steps in, spies the title and says, “I’ve always wondered what city clerks do…”
“Well,” she says, “being a city clerk is a lot like spinning plates and juggling knives while riding a unicycle on a tightrope suspended over a pit filled with hungry tigers, snapping crocodiles and jagged rocks.”
“Wow!” exclaims her captive audience. “I thought all you did was take meeting minutes!”
“Oh, we do that too, but a lot of our work involves following rules, codes and laws of our city, the county where we’re located, and the state. We’re always working on a deadline to post an agenda, publish a notice, conduct an election, respond to a claim or a request for records – sometimes all at once! Clerks are the public face of city hall, so we’re excellent listeners and government guides. We provide expert assistance to city hall staff, helping them communicate effectively with the city council and the public, and we make sure our elected officials are up to date on their required ethics trainings, financial and campaign disclosures, and have the information they need to make good decisions for our communities.
Clerks make local government work by keeping it organized and letting the public know what’s going on.”
The elevator comes to a stop, the floor button dings, and as the doors slide open, our intrepid clerk prepares to exit. Her traveling companion for the last minute reaches out to shake her hand, and thanks her for enlightening him, adding, “I’m going to have to go to a city council meeting when I get back home.”
As she walks down the hall, there’s a bounce in her step and a smile on her face as she says out loud, to no one in particular, “Good has been done here today.”