Did you know the municipal clerk’s position is among the oldest in local government, dating back to biblical times?
The modern Hebrew translation of town clerk is “mazkir ha’ir,” which means “reminder.” Early archive keepers were often called “remembrancers” and before writing became common, their memories served as the public record.
Be thankful we have technology and you don’t have to rely upon my memory!
City secretaries in ancient Greece read official documents aloud in public. When a meeting started, one of their first duties was to decree a curse upon anyone who should seek to deceive the people. To this day, many city clerks and secretaries are known to mutter under our breaths during council meetings, “curse or no?”
Other duties as assigned
When the early colonists came to America, among the first government offices they established was a town clerk or secretary. That person was charged with maintaining records for births, marriages, deaths, appointments, deeds, meetings and elections.
The town clerks were often given additional glamorous duties, such as sweeping the meeting house and selling the seats (open government at its best!), ringing the bell, and paying the bounty for jays and blackbirds whose heads were presented by citizens.
I suppose those duties fell under “other duties as assigned.”
Thankfully, in more than two decades as a city secretary, I’ve never been asked to sweep, sell seats or ring any bells. But the city secretary remains the hub of government and serves as a direct link between the community and its local officials. We also serve as historians with a community’s entire recorded history in our care.
In many cases, we are a citizen’s first contact with a local government, whose basic function is to serve its citizens. No matter what the situation, it’s important for us to help citizens with courtesy and respect by listening, responding and following up.
Bryan City Secretary Mary Lynne Stratta, who I consider my mentor, once declared, “There isn’t anything that occurs within our municipal organizations that we are not a part of – we either record it, archive it, prepare it, post it, publish it, engross it, enroll it, report it, facilitate it, organize it, handle it, manage it or lead it.”
Municipal Clerks Week
The Texas Municipal Clerks Association’s Code of Ethics states that a city secretary must “inspire public confidence and respect for government … believing that honesty, integrity, loyalty and courtesy form the basis of ethical conduct.”
As Municipal Clerks Week begins on Sunday, we recognize that the code holds true for all facets of civil service and should be remembered as we carry out the simplest of tasks or the largest of projects.
That’s what city secretaries do every day.
Click the arrow below to listen to a podcast interview with Sherry Mashburn. You can also download or share the podcast.