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By Abby J. Fitch, City of Aurora, Mayor/Council Management Analyst
I am not a City Clerk, nor do I work for the City Clerk’s office. When given the opportunity to write about municipal clerks, I thought it’d be a great time to learn more about what the office and how that compares to other cities and towns. The new Aurora, CO City Clerk came from the Town of Mead, CO. I would like to thank Linda Blackston* for sitting down and talking to me about the differences between being a town clerk and a city clerk.
Linda Blackston is the City Clerk in Aurora, CO, where the population is roughly 350,000. She has been here about six months. She was Town Clerk in the Town of Mead, CO before starting in Aurora. Mead’s population is about 4,900. Linda started her career in La Salle, CO. A town that has a population of just 2,100.
The first difference we talked about was the staff of the office. Mead had seven employees total.
When it came to Clerk duties, Linda did it all. She was the records custodian, she ran elections, was responsible for the Boards and Commissions and the various other projects that came across her desk.
In Aurora, she is still in charge of most of these areas, but duties are delegated to different people. Often I think of the Clerk’s office as the one-stop shop. When it came to Mead, she was the one-stop shop!
Another big difference that our city clerk is now learning is how a home rule city is run differently than a statutory city. Elections have posed a new learning challenge. For example, in Mead, a candidate would file their campaign forms according to statute and the Clerk’s office would file it away unless someone asked to see it.
In our home rule city the Clerk’s office has much more control over the whole process. It is a brand new set of rules that the City Clerk has had to learn.
For Council resolutions and ordinances, there were no second readings in the statutory town. You could notice the public in the local paper. In our home rule city something is introduced at a first reading and must be voted on a second time. Linda did say that sometimes when dealing with home rule vs statutory, it is not always clear where you find the answer. She gave a nice shout out to the City Attorney’s office who has been very helpful in finding the right answer.
How the agenda is created is also different in her new position. In Mead, she spent a good portion of her time working on the agenda. In Aurora, like many cities, we actually have agenda software to enter and track agenda items. As a town clerk she also had a lot of interaction with the Council. In Aurora, there is staff dedicated to council so most interaction starts with the council staff.
In Mead, she was an appointee who had to be re-appointed every two years. The re-appointment was not just a formality. If council was unhappy with the city clerk, they could choose not to reappoint. I was surprised by this, because, in my experience, even though appointees are often year to year contracts, removing an appointee takes more than one vote. On Mead’s organization chart, the town clerk is the same level as the town administrator. In the City of Aurora, the city clerk answers indirectly to the City Manager.
So when I asked Linda about any frustrations she might be having or things she is thankful for, moving from Town to City, her first response was that she is thankful for having staff.
She also said she is thankful because she moved from a town where she had to know it all. She may not have had the depth of knowledge in each of the Clerk’s many areas, but she at least had exposure. She is now thankful she gets to dive deeper into some of those areas.
We wrapped up our conversation by discussing how Linda became a city clerk. She told me that it was not her dream as a little girl to become a town clerk. She had her children and wanted to bring in some extra income.
The Clerk role suited Linda well. She reads Code and stays up on licensing regulations.
As her career developed, her dreams evolved, and she did have a goal of becoming a city clerk. I asked her if she was a rules oriented person. She says somewhat sheepishly that she is. I think being rules oriented would serve a clerk well. When you know all the code and regulation you help avoid lawsuits and it helps Council procedure, election procedure and other procedures run smoothly. Linda said she still has a lot to learn, but as she sits down and cracks open the code book, I think she will be just fine as a city clerk.
*Thank you to Linda Blackston, City Clerk of Aurora for helping me with this blog post.