Welcome to a new 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.
By Kirsten Wyatt
Early in my career, the city recorder quit and the organization was suddenly without recorder services and had to update the job description and begin recruitment. In total, I filled in as the city recorder for about four months. And it was during those four months that my deep and abiding love for city recorders took hold.
During my short stint as a recorder, the volume of information was overwhelming. Previously, the organization had provided much of this via paper copies, and the city had just begun putting this information online when I stepped in. The woman we hired, in my opinion the best city recorder of all time, was Kathy Mollusky. Kathy finalized this online process by digitizing and making available agendas, minutes, records, and forms online. She even convinced a relatively technology-inexperienced council to use tablets instead of relying on inch-thick packets at their meetings. And she managed the appointment process for all city volunteers and could recite elections calendars in her sleep.
Simply put, Kathy’s hiring was one of the best things that happened to that city.
I’ve worked in organizations where the clerk/recorder was in charge of copying and collating council packets, and also in organizations where the position played a more strategic role in the long range planning for legislative and quasi-judicial issues. And in both instances, the job requires an attention to detail and a big-picture understanding that I worry we can take for granted when we look at the composition of an effective management team.
Hiring the right fit in the recorder’s role will reverberate throughout all aspects of the agency, similar to any other senior level department director.
When I worked with Kathy, I changed her title to “Council Policy Coordinator.” She did not (and still does not) love that title, but it was the most accurate title I could think of to encompass my view of what a clerk/recorder truly does in this day and age. We should not look at these positions as secretaries to the city manager. They are not (or at least, should not be) tied to the copy machine, making endless copies for distribution.
What clerks and recorders are doing is coordinating the important work that happens at public meetings. They’re on the front lines of noticing meetings, citizen engagement, recording action items, filing legal documents, managing elections, coordinating volunteers, and keeping the work of the elected body accessible to the public. This is a critical role as the public demands greater transparency from local government.
As we embark on a summer of recent MPA graduates looking for jobs and internships, I’m hopeful that learning more about the substantive role that clerks and recorders play can get some of them to shift their attention away from the all-too-scarce “management analyst” or “assistant to the city manager” jobs that are perceived to be the best stepping stones into local government, and instead consider a position in a clerk/recorder’s office.
Maybe there’s something in the water here in Oregon, but along with Kathy, I’ve seen the immense value that clerks/recorders bring to agencies, and the career paths that a successful tenure in a clerk/recorder’s office can nurture:
- Amber Mathesien got her start in records, and is now the city manager for Mt. Angel, Oregon.
- Cate Schneider took her newly-minted MPA degree to the city recorder role, and is now the senior management analyst for Multnomah County, Oregon.
- And, Robyn Christie’s career first in Lake Oswego, and now Bend, Oregon exemplifies this concept of a city recorder as an essential management team member and community engagement advocate.
Because of people like Kathy, Amber, Cate, and Robyn, I wanted to join in this “Local Government Nerve Center” blog series (with my measly four months in the recorder role…) and share my love and admiration for this essential local government position.
I am hopeful that the stories we learn on ELGL.org about the clerk/recorder role during this blog series will continue to shed more light on why these jobs are important, and why they are jobs that any person who wants to work in local government leadership should consider and pursue.