Thursday, May 11, 2017

Celebrating the contributions of municipal clerks

Imagine walking into your office every day with a rack overflowing with hats. You have no idea which hats you will wear over the course of the day or what new hats might appear.

That’s a day in the life of a municipal clerk. And this week of May 7 - 13 is designated as Municipal Clerks’ week by the International Institute of Municipal Clerks to celebrate the valuable work of this role in city government.

One of local government’s oldest positions is the municipal clerk. In South Carolina, state law requires all cities to have an appointed municipal clerk regardless of a municipality's size or form of government. The clerk's responsibilities under state law include giving notice of meetings to council members and the public, keeping minutes of council proceedings, and performing other duties as assigned by council.

Greenville City Clerk Camilla Pittman, MMC, MFOCTA president, 
and West Pelzer Town Clerk/Administrator Paula Payton, CMC, at the
recent MCTI spring session.
The title "clerk" as we know it developed from the Latin “clericus.” During the Middle Ages, when scholarship and writing were limited to the clergy, clerk came to mean a scholar, especially one who could read, write, and thus serve as notary, secretary, accountant and recorder.

The beginning of the office of city clerk in England can be traced back to 1272 in the history of the Corporation of Old London. The "Remembrancer" was called upon to remind the councilors (members of the council) what had transpired at their previous meetings, since the meeting of the early councils were not recorded in written minutes.

Over the years, municipal clerks have become the hub of city government. The increasingly diverse and complex responsibilities of a municipal clerk have prompted the need for ongoing education to help clerks stay on top of trends, technology and changes in the law.

The SC Municipal Finance Officers, Clerks and Treasurers Association is the only organization in the state that provides training targeted specifically for municipal clerks. MFOCTA offers a diversity of classes and training programs throughout the year on topics as varied as compliance with the Freedom of Information Act to basic budgeting and parliamentary procedure to business licensing.  MFOCTA is the state affiliate of the International Institute of Municipal Clerks.

Additionally, the Municipal Clerks and Treasurers Institute is a multi- year program established in 1979 to give clerks more in-depth training. MCTI is the IIMC-approved state training institute.

This year, the Municipal Association introduced the first in a series of online training classes for clerks. This training is especially useful for clerks in small towns because often they aren’t able to take time away from city hall to attend out-of-town training.

The distinguished political scientist, Professor William Bennett Munro, writing in one of the first textbooks on municipal administration in 1934, stated: "No other office in municipal service has so many contracts. It serves the mayor, the city council, the city manager (when there is one), and all administrative departments without exception. All of them call upon it, almost daily, for some service or information. Its work is not spectacular, but it demands versatility, alertness, accuracy, and no end of patience. The public does not realize how many loose ends of city administration this office pulls together."

These words, written more than 80 years ago, are still fitting today.

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