The Municipal Clerk: A Key Element
The profession of Municipal Clerk is a time-honored and historical one, extending to biblical times and beyond.
The modern Hebrew translation of Town Clerk is "Mazkir Ha'ir", which literally means the city or town "Reminder". The English Bible (II Samuel, I and II Kings, Isaiah, and I and II Chronicles) called him the "Recorder". The Recorder kept the records of the important events of the time. The Hebrew "Mazkir" was "one who caused to remember" or "called to mind". He was among the highest of Court Officials — the Chancellor who called the King's attention to important matters of state.
The Town Clerk was an official of varied powers and functions in different parts of the Greek world and was also recognized by the Romans in their colonial world. It was the Town Clerk who persuaded the rioting citizens of Ephesus to leave the followers of St. Paul unharmed and return to their homes, thus preserving the law and order of the time (Acts XIX).
In the Middle Ages, "clerk" became synonymous with "scholar". He was the person who recorded the happenings of the day and tied together the past with the present. In England the Town Clerk became a respected and important official in local government, and when the colonists came to America, the Office of Town Clerk became an integral part of the democratic communities, recording the birth and death of its inhabitants, the land transactions, and the action of free men assembled at the annual town meetings.
Today, the Office of Municipal Clerk continues to be a key element of our local democratic system. Outside of the Mayor, the Municipal Clerk is the most frequently found office in local government. The Office now exists from the largest metropolis with over 8 million people to the smallest hamlet numbering 16 pioneering citizens. It is found in every state in the union; is a highly respected office in Canadian local government; continues its ancient role in Israel; and can be found in democratic governments around the globe. And in these times, when much emphasis is being placed upon advancement of women in government, it is the only profession in local government administration where over half of its members are women.
The duties of the modern Municipal Clerk continue to be as broad and as essential to our local citizens as they have been in the past. The Municipal Clerk maintains the official records and documents, records and publishes council minutes, and serves as the information center in handling inquiries from other municipal departments, other governmental units, and the citizens. The Municipal Clerk is often the elections administration officer, and many manage the licensing of business and the granting of permits. And a significant number, especially in the smaller communities, serve as the chief administrative officer, overseeing all operations of local government and implementing the programs and policies determined by the mayor and council.
Municipal Clerks are actively improving the skills needed to handle their many responsibilities. This past year over 3,500 clerks, deputy clerks, and other municipal officials have attended Professional Clerks Institutes offered by 45 universities and colleges throughout the United States and Canada. These institutes are college level career development programs formulated with the assistance of the International Institute of Municipal Clerks, the professional association of 9,600 city, village, and town clerks located in every state, Canadian province and 15 other countries.
The Municipal Clerk is aware of the historical traditions of the office but knows that change in inevitable. Throughout the ages, the Municipal Clerk has served fairly, impartially, and with total dedication to the desires of his or her government, the requests of his or her fellow peers, and the interests and needs of his or her fellow citizens. The Municipal Clerk knows that in order to continue to perform the important tasks ahead, he or she must strive for a complete and fully-developed professional delivery of quality services directly to all citizens. •
Page 18 / Illinois Municipal Review / May 1990