Do You Know What Your City Clerk Does?

Ah, democracy! Where citizens (okay, at least the ones who bother going to the polls) choose their public servants, after weighing their qualifications for the positions to be filled.

So, I’ll ask an inconvenient question: what does your City Clerk do? How about the auditor? Assessor? Recorder? What about those offices at the state level?

According to the Indiana Code, city clerks perform the following tasks:

(1) Serve as clerk of the city legislative body under IC 36-4-6-9 and maintain custody of its records.
(2) Maintain all records required by law.
(3) Keep the city seal.
(4) As soon as a successor is elected and qualified, deliver to the successor all the records and property of the clerk’s office.
(5) Perform other duties prescribed by law.
(6) Administer oaths when necessary in the discharge of the clerk’s duties, without charging a fee.
(7) Take depositions, without charging a fee.
(8) Take acknowledgement of instruments that are required by statute to be acknowledged, without charging a fee.
(9) Serve as clerk of the city court under IC 33-35-3-2, if the judge of the court does not serve as clerk of the court or appoint a clerk of the court under IC 33-35-3-1.

Among those “other duties prescribed’–at least in Indianapolis, the Clerk hands out and certifies marriage licenses (and can officiate at marriage ceremonies), handles child support payments, serves on the County Election Board and administers elections.

So here’s my question: how much of this did you–my savvier-than-the-average-citizen readers–know?

We could engage in a similar test for a number of other city and state offices. Which raises the question, how many of these positions should we actually be voting for?

I’ll be the first to admit that I have no basis upon which to form an opinion of the relative merits of candidates for Coroner, to pick just one example. Most of us simply vote for the candidates endorsed by the political party we favor (assuming we vote at all); that being the case, wouldn’t we be better served to make the positions appointive?

What are the pros and cons?

41 thoughts on “Do You Know What Your City Clerk Does?

  1. *Raises hand excitedly*

    But, I will confess that I mixed up the Auditor and the Assessor for an embarrassingly long time. Local government structure can be non-intuitive even for people who work in and around it and for citizens who are attentive. For citizens who are checked out, it’s just a confused jumble.

  2. I don’t believe the general public is capable or supposed to fully understand the legalese which describes any of these government positions…which is why many of us depend on our party, if we have a party, to guide us. Otherwise we must keep abreast of candidates platform and actions via the media…which is a problem in and of itself. The problem I have with appointees is that they appointed by the governing party, in our case, Pence and Ballard. In the case of appointed positions; we the public, need full disclosure of each possible appointee. But that takes us back to the current media.

    Current media brings to my mind the fact that Jim Shella, a blatant Republican, hosted the recent mayoral debate. The following day there was a front page article in the Star about Brewer, the Republican candidate…no follow-up about Hogsett. Local media in action!

    I understand the basics of the term “surveyor” but must return to the election a few years ago of Kathy Barton, probably due to the illustrious Barton family political history. When asked after the election what changes she would make in the Surveyor’s Office she responded, “I know nothing about surveying so will leave that to my capable staff. I will use this position to concentrate on my social service work in the community.” Was this her campaign platform? This elected official position may have been better served by an appointee but we will never know.

    Just as we cannot know until any official is performing their job or not; whether being elected or appointed is the best option. “Ya pays yer money and ya takes yer chance.”

  3. I worked in the IT dept of the city clerk in a city in AZ and until I worked there, I had no clue what they did. Great question.

  4. I totally agree; let me vote for the executives and legislators and then hold them accountable for the hiring and law-making decisions they make. Voting for these types of positions is what gives political parties their power.

  5. If understanding the duties and responsibilities of the position is the voters’ admission ticket to the ballot box, voter turnout would drop by 90%. In fact, I suspect that we would lose some office-holders in large numbers on both sides of the aisle.

  6. As long as the parties need these guys on the ballot to fund the other races, they’ll stay on the ballot. They’re all ministerial positions and ought to be appointed.

  7. Remember, for many decades our two party system was extremely effective serving democracy. We could rely on the party faithful to help us in our less understood races. And they could reward those who had demonstrated skills serving the party with a chance to perform them as a public servant.

    It was only since the GOP has decided to go into business rather than serve that the two party system lost its value.

    I personally hope for the return of the old system though I’m less optimistic that it will return as Republicans and Democrats. I really think that the Republican have wandered beyond return to public service and will not adapt and go extinct as an obsolete business.

    But the names don’t matter. What does is fealty to our Constitution, our democracy, and public service.

    It’s an interesting question though as to which offices should be elected and which appointed.

    Take Supreme Court Justices for instance. Are we better off with the present system in which the whole court is assumed to represent the long term average of national politics or some appointment scheme based on the judgement of the legal profession as to the most qualified experts in Constitutional law? I personally could argue either choice so probably would choose leaving what is alone.

  8. Thanks, Sheila, for this post. As a matter of disclosure, I asked Sheila to write this post when we met at a state League of Women Voters luncheon as we have a hotly contested City Clerk’s race going on in Fort Wayne. The race took a dramatic turn a week or so ago….I’ll let you Google the stories from the local media in The Fort. But truly…do we know what elected officials, particularly at the local level, but at the county and state level likely far too often, really do and/or are responsible for? And what’s the best way to educate the voters on this?

  9. Since I don’t live in a city, I only know what our county clerk’s duties are and they are basically the same as you described for Indianapolis.

    In my county, it seems that once someone is elected for any position (other than the sheriff) they continue to keep winning elections because I live in a basically one-party county.

    Also, the people that have held these positions for many years started right out of high school. They work 7 hour days and enjoy a substantial benefit package that private sector workers envy. Over time, their pay has actually risen above the level of private sector pay in my area so they really do have great jobs and know that they could never earn the same pay or ever get the same benefits in a private sector job.

  10. Both of my parents worked tirelessly for the Republican Party. Both were elected to local offices. My mother was County Treasurer for many years a job that she took very, very seriously as a duty to and for the public. Woe be to anyone who approached her looking for political favor.

  11. Administrative officials do what the statutes tell them to do, and more, since there are related actions they must take to carry out their statutory functions. Such administrative officials will have different duties in different jurisdictions, of course, so it is difficult to come up with a common set of duties to be performed nation-wide. Such officials whether elected or appointed are the nuts and bolts of government undergirding our tri-partite form of government and record-keeping and are generally underappreciated. As a retired lawyer, I have had many interactions with such offices and have found them to be well run in the public interest whether of one party or another.

  12. I’m sure the thought was to water down the power of patronage and the strength of parties. I’m not sure it works that way most of the time. It does provide a weak feed back loop based on the thought that citizens dissatisfied with service can take it out on the party in power (or faction of that party in the solid Red counties) in the next election. May be a bit more transparency and a nudge would help. Put up a big sign in each local office that says “This office is managed by a Republican (or Democrat). Keep that in mind in the next election.” Having solved that problem we can turn to “Why do we have 92 elected Recorders and 92 databases for real estate transactions? Amazon wouldn’t do it that way.”

  13. I once had the privilege of living in Madison, Wisconsin, which is, or at least was, an amazingly politically engaged city. At every general election, I was astonished at the number of lawn signs, for everything from President of the United States to an office called Registrar of Deeds. I assumed that the Registrar of Deeds registered deeds, whatever that entailed. Once I tried to figure out the difference between candidates for that office, and the qualifications and positions of the candidates seemed to be virtually identical. I think some of these jobs are elective just so they can’t be handed out as political plums to supporters of candidates higher up the ticket. I never did muster the enthusiasm to put a Registrar of Deeds sign on my lawn.

  14. I did know some of the duties of the Clerk’s office, but not all. I made it my business to know when I volunteered to work at the polls.

    As far as other local county offices are concerned, it is clear that parties often put up candidates based on their party loyalty rather than their competence. It is a form of political patronage. If those positions were appointed, we, the voters, would have even less to say about those serving than we do now.

    County Surveyor is one of those offices that gets caught in the political backwash. (No pun intended.) Some of those duties are very important to storm water and water quality issues. In this county that office has become critical as we have storm water and water quality turned over to CEG at a time when the city is under pressure to fix an outdated and failing system. How much the Surveyor influences the management of that group is problematic because most of the decisions regarding storm water and water quality appear to be approved by boards of political appointees. The least we should expect is some educational attainment that would include engineering with a focus on geology, hydrology and topography. Management skills would also be needed.

    The same type of education and experience should be considered for other county offices. A coroner should be someone who has a medical degree. The auditor should have accounting expertise. It should be a fairly straightforward presentation of credentials to qualify, like a resume or curriculum vitae.

    IMO, parties should be under some obligation to provide this information for their nominees. More than just glossy handouts about their family and political positions, we need to see their job qualifications.

  15. When I was a tiny tot in Cheeseland, we learned that putting jobs in the Civil Service department was a way to keep the evil forces away from the work of government. YAY for Civil Service Jobs.
    And… Pete for President please.

  16. What are the chances that an elected official will give someone who is superbly qualified the position (when that qualified person can do, has done, or will do nothing for the official) vs. naming someone to the position whom the official knows, owes a favor to, etc…..political patronage?? Not good odds for the qualified person…..perhaps it is the political parties’ responsibility to run good candidates based on their qualifications?

  17. I had forgotten that in Marion County the Treasurer, Assessor and Auditor serve ex-offico as the County Commissioners. That is important because the Commissioners issue the license to operate a ferry (with a maximum fee of $50 for five years.) And, if you have a license to operate a ferry, you are exempt from jury duty. Maybe I should go get one.

  18. I might be fine with a city manager instead of an elected Mayor.

    The one office I absolutely want to vote for is judge.

    That much power, and that much ability to make law should always be reserved for voter accountability.

  19. Having worked as an archivist on and off for the last 30 years I have become fairly well versed in what city and county clerks do on an everyday basis. I also used to work for the Indiana Commission on Public Records back when the first state records laws and records management programs were formulated and then implemented and visited 74 of our 92 county seats in working directly with them toward that end. We relied heavily on those clerks to keep things running smoothly and also be compliant with those laws and all-in-all they did a great job. While what county and municipal clerks do might not be the most exciting ‘stuff’ to work with or talk about it is a very critical component of government on any level. They maintain the institutional memory of of every governmental entity from coast to coast.

  20. There was a time when the competition between parties was reputation based. Parties that didn’t serve the public interest in every way were identified by good journalists and the party paid a price in future elections.

    Now the Republicans have discovered that extremists single issue voters are quite easy to recruit based on their simplistic view of the world. Promise them that they can have what they want despite the best interests of the country and they’ll blindly follow.

    Evangelicals, gun nuts, racists, libertarians, theocrats, capitalism nazis all are single issue groups that tend towards extremism. Very susceptible to brand marketing. Very easy to recruit. Not the least bit interested in what’s best for the country.

    Now the Republicans have to depend on them because serious voters are leaving them. The party is stuck in the quicksand of their own creation.

    It’s too bad for America but the doing of the party not America.

  21. Patmcc, thanks for the vote of confidence. What amazes me is that I feel like I’m just trying to reapply what I learned as a boy about America and our government, yet some react like I’m from another planet. It shows how far our culture has been dragged off course by, I have to believe, those who prioritize self interest above progress for all.

    I love America, democracy, the freedom it gives us and our Constitution. I will do what I can to bring them back to the forefront of our culture.

    It’s nice to know that I am not alone.

  22. Gopper. There isn’t a judge in the country that can make law. Some judges job is the necessary one of deciding precisely what law made by others says very specifically because it must be decided who is within or outside of it. Such decisions are taken as precedents for later judges to consider.

    If you have another way of accomplishing that I’m sure that the world would like to know it.

  23. @ Matt Stone – that is interesting! I never knew that a coroner had the power to arrest a sheriff. Can they also arrest other citizens?

    @ JD – I agree with you that elected officials should have some education and specific knowledge to be qualified for their jobs. Of course, that would also mean that Mayors, Judges and other high ranking officials would have to prove their qualifications. Not sure either party would allow that to happen.

  24. Pete,

    you’re certainly correct about what judges are SUPPOSED to do, but in the real world judges do just about what they want. This leads to a very corrupt system of justice as is witnessed by a large percentage of our populace.

    I feel they should be elected just as you do. I add they should, along with prosecutors, not be immune from consequences of the deliberate harm they freely disperse.

  25. Hey Pete! Could you clarify the quote below.
    “…only since the GOP has decided to go into business rather than serve that the two party…”

  26. Our neighbor to the south, in the spirit of the Bluegrass born late Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, is fortunate to have The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit, nonpartisan newsroom based in Louisville, that fosters investigative journalism that lets in the sunshine regarding activities that affect local and state-wide citizens of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

    The investigate reporting group’s mission is to protect society’s most vulnerable citizens, expose wrongdoing in the public and private sectors, increase transparency in government and hold leaders accountable. This group of seasoned Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists digs for the truth without fear or favor, cuts through red tape and definitely sparks public conversation. In short, this group can smell corruption from miles away.

    The group especially is on the trail of jailors (an elected office in KY), university Boards of Directors, and State Legislators. Indiana would be well served by such a group. The group’s current projects are listed at the following link. http://kycir.org/projects/

  27. Ken, it seems pretty evident that the Republican Party has completely given up on what the country needs, to focus on what their wealthy patriarchs pay for. And they are able to do this by getting elected by the single issue extremists who will vote for anyone that promises them control.

    As I said earlier: “Evangelicals, gun nuts, racists, libertarians, theocrats, capitalism nazis all are single issue groups that tend towards extremism. Very susceptible to brand marketing. Very easy to recruit. Not the least bit interested in what’s best for the country.”

    That makes them a business. Buying votes through advertising on Fox et al and selling influence.

    The evidence is Congress. They have and are doing nothing for the country. And their Presidential candidates pandering to every single issue extremist group in the country. And their leadership not even pretending to have a platform for America.

  28. “In the real world, judges do just about what they want.”

    Thanks, Earl.

    And nothing can stop them or check them. That’s why we need to vote on them.

  29. Pete! I don’t disagree with what you just posted but I’m baffled that you do not see opposite pandering by democrats. Any criticism of POTUS is racist, any criticism of Hillary is sexist, any objection to any abortion procedure (including starvation of babies that survive “botched” abortions) is misogynistic, any suggestion to evaluate social programs for effectiveness is an attempt to starve the poor, etc. Why is it that every liberal pet project is off limits for discussion?

  30. JoAnn, This city clerk office had a separate IT call center that managed the clerk’s IT network where I was a call center employee. There were 3 of us at the call center and another 5-10 employees (some being staff managers, including 3 IT trainers that conducted classes on how to use the hardware and software). That department managed and maintained the email network servers and file system servers strictly for the clerk’s office. We assisted the employees of the city clerk’s office, not the general public. We helped the employees of the department with access to the network and problems with word processing functions, etc. This was way back in ’95 and I believe since then, they have merged the clerk’s IT department with the rest of the city’s IT network and eliminated that department all together.

  31. Thanks AgingLGrl but I still don’t know what IT stands for, it isn’t familiar to me. Sounds like a busy, important job.

  32. Ken: I don’t think every criticism of POTUS is racist but I do think that there is an underlying racism in many of his critics and those critics pander to racism in others. Same for Hillary, criticism of her appeals to some with a sexist view. There is plenty of criticism of both from George Will, Charles Krauthamer, Kirsten Powers etc. all of which can be discussed and debated. Their criticism tends to be a bit more civil than some including some who hold public office. The fact these representatives get elected says a lot about the voters who elect them and confirms that racism, sexism are alive and well in the voting population.

  33. Thanks again, AgingLGrl; in the 1980’s, City and County offices just stuck computers on our desks – with shared printers – gave us a few verbal instructions as to which keys to punch and called it training. The one time they did provide formal computer training, a three-day course at IUPUI, it was for a program we didn’t yet have access to. When the program they purchased was installed, it wasn’t the program we spent three days learning. Training wasn’t a priority. One of the DMD “computer experts” thought it was funny to send my documents to the 20th floor printer and their documents to my printer on the 18th floor. Your IT department was an important training service and a much needed service in government and business.

  34. Unfortunately JoAnn, many business treat their employees that way. Most of the larger companies, city clerk, universities etc, that I worked at, had training classes to teach you how to use the software that landed on your desk. I taught several word processing classes and took many many more of them myself. With Windows upgrading their software every 18 months or so, it was required to get re-certified for that software and I wanted off that treadmill so instead when I finished college at age 45, I took management courses and boy am I glad I did. Now, IT are underpaid and under valued. I got out just in time.

  35. City Clerk and County Clerk are completely different offices. County Clerk administers marriage licenses, serves on election board, etc. Myla Eldridge is not a “City Clerk.” She is a “County Clerk. Indianapolis does not have a City Clerk. But Ft.Wayne and many other cities do.

  36. Daleb! I will predict that neither party would care to be judged based on the creepiest people who vote for them. It pains me that KKK members vote the same way that I do on any topic, but their preference should not be the basis for criticism of an entire platform or party. I find several members of the Comgress to be an extreme embarrassment from both sides of the aisle. I would prefer to discuss the merits of a strategy to solve a problem rather than slinging accusations at the outliers. I find Donald Trump to be disgusting, but he will not be the Republican nominee. His popularity is a product of wide-spread frustration with a Congress that refuses to work together. Reagan/O’Neill and Clinton/Gingrich came together and addressed the critical issue of their days. In the last 12-15 years no one has shown the leadership. His bluster convinces many that he with get things done, but the luster will fade before next summer.

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