Common Pain Points for City Clerks and How Technology Can Help

Lena Eisenstein
5 min read
The job of the city clerk comes with a lot of pain points, but being bored on the job isn't one of them. Rather, the role of the city clerk is one of the busiest, most multifaceted government jobs. It's a managerial position that requires a wealth of responsibility in multiple areas of government work. In an iCompass survey, now Community by Diligent, municipal clerks shared the top three challenges that they expected to face over the next 12'18 months.

Municipal clerks are concerned about: 1) continuing to have a heavy workload; 2) modifying an existing program or service; and 3) implementing new technology. With Community by Diligent, that third concern is actually the answer to all three of their top challenges.

The Role of the City Clerk

Those who work in government offices often see the role of the municipal clerk as the jack-of-all-trades ' a role that municipal clerks readily accept. Something that adds to the pressure for municipal clerks is that others expect them to master every task and complete them all within the constraints of a normal, fast-paced workday.

Municipal clerks interface with numerous other individuals during the course of the workday. At any given time, they may receive a request from the City Manager, city officials, department heads, outside agencies, organizations or members of the public. Clerks must know and understand the laws, local policies and local guidelines.

Among their other duties, municipal clerks spend much of their time handling documents and managing records, often without the proper resources to manage them appropriately. Other staff members may try to be helpful with records, but without a formal system and proper training, that 'help' can complicate records management further.

As if the municipal clerks' regular duties were not enough, they need to step-up their pace when council meetings and elections are looming, as clerks play a prominent role in preparing for both of them.

Challenges With Managing the City Council's Agenda

When the council meeting date arrives, the council members take their chairs and the clerk begins announcing the roll call. The agenda is full of important issues waiting for the council to discuss, debate and vote on them. With the full focus on the meeting at hand, there's no mention or concern of the countless hours that the municipal clerk spent toiling over every detail to make sure the meeting goes off without a hitch.

The reality is that municipal clerks unceremoniously step-up their duties before council meetings. During this busy time, they gather reports from public officials, review the previous agenda and meeting notes, and collect correspondence from citizens. Once clerks have all the necessary information and documents ready for the meeting, it takes many more hours to organize them and lay them out, formatting them into proper agenda packets. Clerks spend numerous additional hours printing, collating and distributing agendas, agenda packets and other materials for the meeting.

You might think the clerk could breathe a sigh of relief once they've sent the last agenda packet out to the council members. Municipal clerks who've held their positions for any length of time know that, at any time, they can get a request for a small change that requires them to reprint, re-collate and re-distribute the agenda packets all over again.

Manual processes are time-consuming, frustrating and expensive. Budgets are tight and demands are high. The process isn't timely or transparent and council members may have delays in getting accurate information before a meeting, which makes their job difficult as well.

Challenges With Records Management

Most local governments recognize records management as a priority, but they just don't have the resources available to do it properly. Government staff or local citizens often need access to government records for various reasons. Locating and pulling a record should be one of the clerk's easiest tasks.

In the survey of municipal clerks, we discovered that most local governments don't have a formal system for managing records. Perhaps what is even more discouraging is that most local governments don't assign a network, department or individual to be accountable for managing government records appropriately. Through our survey, we learned that four out of five local governments don't train their staff in records management at all. About 83% of our respondents stated that their municipality didn't offer training in records management.

If you're thinking that the audit process might straighten some of this out, our survey also indicated that four out of five municipal governments didn't conduct audits of their records management programs to make sure staff manages government records correctly.

Getting Help From Technology to Alleviate the Major Pain Points for Municipal Clerks

Community by Diligent took these top challenges for municipal clerks into consideration when designing innovative digital solutions for solving problems that frustrate and plague clerks on a daily basis. Community by Diligent enables clerks to save time and expense in managing meetings, records and boards, and in providing citizens with the information they value most. Clerks can create an agenda packet with an editor that was specifically designed with the needs of municipal clerks in mind. They can create agenda packets in minutes using drag-and- drop technology. And, about those last-minute changes? Clerks can modify and distribute the corrected agenda online in seconds. When the meeting is over, clerks can pull information from the agenda into the platform for meeting minutes. After making a few adjustments, meeting minutes can be ready for approval. The program also lets clerks send the approved version of the minutes to elected officials, the public or others using a single click.

Clerks also devote much of their days to managing boards and commissions. With a centralized online platform where citizens can identify upcoming vacancies, apply online and track the process without ever making a call to the municipal clerk. If you're ready to cut down by half the number of hours you or your clerk spends on preparing agendas, it's time to check out Community by Diligent.