What does a city clerk do?

Rebecca Curtis explains her role as the Clerk for the City of Gaylord, Mich.

The City of Gaylord in Otsego County, Mich. is situated on the 45th Parallel, halfway between the North Pole and the Equator. Gaylord is a popular destination for travelers and tourists because it is conveniently located between M-32 and I-75. Hunters, skiers, fishermen and canoeists all find Gaylord’s natural areas and tourist amenities among the best in the Michigan.

Elected and appointed city officials in Gaylord work to ensure that the city continues to be a place that attracts both tourists and year-round residents. I had the opportunity to speak with Rebecca Curtis, the clerk for the City of Gaylord about her role in city operations.

When I asked Curtis what role she plays as the Gaylord City Clerk, she directed me to review the voter-approved Charter of the City of Gaylord. The charter states that the duties of the Gaylord City Clerk are:

  • To attend all council meetings, keep a permanent journal of its proceedings, and keep a record of all ordinances, resolutions and regulations of the council.
  • Be custodian of the city seal, and affix it to all documents requiring the seal; be custodian of all papers, documents and records pertaining to the City of Gaylord; and give to the proper department or official’s ample notice of the expiration or termination of any franchises, contracts or agreements.
  • Provide and maintain a supply of forms for all petitions required to be filed for any purpose by the provisions of the Charter, such as elections.
  • Certify by signature all ordinances and resolutions enacted or passed by the council, and perform any other duties required by the state law, the Charter, or by the council.

In addition to these timeless tasks, the role of city clerk has evolved and now encompasses other responsibilities. Reductions in budgets and assisting other staff members are some of the reasons for these additional responsibilities.

For example, Curtis explained that she is also the zoning administrator for the city, which means she approves all zoning permits and sign permits and notifies individuals of zoning violations. She also works with the planning commission and zoning board of appeals and attends their meetings, as well as records the minutes of the meetings.

Aside from the city manager, Curtis is considered the chief financial officer of the City of Gaylord. She prepares a budget that includes 18 different funds (approximately 80 pages). She balances the bank statements to the general ledger, balances the general ledger and is the accounts payable officer. She is the primary employee that works with the auditors each year. She prepares the Council packets and assists the city manager as needed.

When I asked Curtis what made her decide to run for this position and what about it appealed to her, she laughed, responding, “Truthfully, I had been appointed city treasurer prior to running for city clerk. I was bored. The city clerk’s position offered more of a challenge. To me it was much more interesting and some of the duties I had had as city treasurer –the financial aspects – I was permitted to continue doing as City Clerk.”

Regarding her role in election oversight, Curtis says overseeing the City elections has not changed the way she views the U.S. process for elections. “I don’t believe overseeing elections has changed my perspective about elections, but I will say that through education of the process I have a greater understanding and awareness of the importance. Conducting an election is a very time consuming task, but hopefully to a voter in Gaylord, it feels effortless and comfortable. That is our goal. We have voters who have voted for decades, religiously. And we have voters who only vote once every four years, and others who vote even less. Working in a public entity controlled for the most part by an elected board, has made me realize the importance of casting your vote for the candidate you feel is best qualified to lead the entity in the direction you feel it needs to go in. The same goes for elected school officials, county officials, state and national offices as well.”

Curtis also shared a bit of advice about representing the City of Gaylord in a public capacity to others interested in being an elected official. “Although there is much responsibility in being an elected official, it is very exciting to have a direct impact on the direction a community takes. In Gaylord, we have 3,645 residents, our elected officials make decisions that affect the personal wellbeing of each and every one of those residents, as well as the tens of thousands of visitors we have each year. These decisions are relating to public infrastructure, sidewalks, roads, water and wastewater, that service the business and residential community. They also include public safety, fire, and police, DPW to provide law enforcement, fire protection, safe streets and sidewalks for the traveling public. In addition to quality of life decisions, parks, pedestrian pathways, programs, events, etc. And most importantly – how to fund them all!”

Michigan State University Extension offers educational programs for people who would like to develop or improve skills in several areas of government.

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