What is a City Clerk’s Office?

Posted on August 2, 2018

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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 Emily Chen, City of Walnut Creek, CA, Assistant to City Clerk

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Friend: “What do you do?”
Me: “Oh I work in the City Clerk’s office”.
Friend: “What is a City Clerk’s office?”

If you work in the clerk’s office or you are a City Clerk, you can most likely relate to the above conversation and you probably think to yourself… “If they only knew what we do in the clerk’s office.”

There is never a dull moment in the clerk’s office whether you are preparing agenda packets to receiving a claim towards the city. There is always something to be done. When I became Assistant to the City Clerk I realized there is so much more behind the clerk’s office; a lot of multitasking, multitasking, and multitasking. I would tell Walnut Creek City Clerk, Suzie Martinez that the clerk’s office is like an octopus playground. If only we had eight arms to juggle all the tasks at once! But since were not an octopus it goes to show all the work that gets done and needs to be done in a clerk’s office. Here is just a few responsibilities of the clerk’s office:

compilation of agendas
local elections
process public record requests
process claims, subpoenas, and summons
manage incoming mail
record city documents
prepare Council adopted ordinances, resolutions, minutes
train employees on new agenda / record management software
serve as the Notary Public
event coordinator of ceremonial holidays (Veterans and Memorial Day)

Only naming a few, the duties of the clerk’s office are complex and vary for the clients we serve.

To be honest, I love every single of bit of my job for that reason. I can come to work and know I will always have something different to face each day. I am honored to serve in the clerk’s office and play such a key part to the city. The clerk’s office holds a large amount of responsibility for the municipality and needs of the public.

Did you know in order to incorporate a city; there must be a City Clerk? I’ve always thought that fact spoke for itself. Every city needs a city clerk and no matter how many duties the clerk’s office may have, at the end of the day, everyone can count on the clerk’s office to get the job done (and trust me…it gets done).

The clerk’s office is efficient and does an outstanding job serving as the liaison between citizens and the city council. All this to say, the City Clerk is nothing close to a secretary, but a highly respected person that wears several hats for municipal government.

Recently I was asked by a colleague what the hardest part of working in the clerk’s office was and I told them, “I can’t make everyone happy”. The public always seems to seek out the clerk’s office for questions, concerns, complaints, and will not leave until there is a solid solution or answer. This is very difficult for myself, personally because I want to please anyone I serve and as clerk’s we may not have the answer right then and there and that becomes beyond frustrating to citizens. (Thankfully when we have a public records request we have 10 days to respond). Prior to writing this blog, I thought it would be interesting to ask that same question to two colleagues:  one, who currently works in the clerk’s office and the other who works outside the clerk’s office. And here are their responses:

Maureen Kane, Executive Director for Technical Training for Clerks (TTC) worked with clerk’s for several years as she served as a Councilmember and now continues to oversee the TTC Program. Kane believes one of the hardest aspects of the clerk’s office is that

“the clerk has an independent responsibility to consistently administer their duties without prejudice or interference from outside influence. “

Jennifer Levesque, Deputy City Clerk for the City of Merced has worked in the clerk’s office for a year and states the hardest part of the clerk’s office is “reaching the deadlines”.

As a clerk we are required to publish public notices and meet several different deadlines and if we do not meet those deadlines, it can cause delays in our work and the work of others.

As you can see the clerk’s office faces many difficulties on a day-to-day basis. The clerk’s office may be full of challenges but it is also full of new experiences and fun encounters. Each day you can always expect to learn something new. Though clerks are not perfect, we will give our best at everything we do to ensure quality of service to our citizens and municipality.  I hope after reading this post you gained a new insight about working in the clerk’s office and the trials we experience. One of my favorite clerk quotes and moto I will end with is:

“We workin’ and we clerkin’”.

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