The Municipal Clerk truly is a community’s jack-of-all-trades, often overseeing multiple departments and performing numerous tasks daily to keep local governments and public services running smoothly and efficiently. Conversations With Clerks is a new DeCoder series in which we talk with Municipal Clerks from across the country to learn more about their unique experiences and what it takes to be effective and successful in their roles.
This issue’s featured clerk:
City of Bangor, ME
Can you tell our readers a little about the City of Bangor?
Bangor has a population of about 31,753. We are the third largest city in the state of Maine. Originally, we were the lumber capital of the nation. Logs cut in northern Main would come down the Penobscot River to the sawmills in Bangor and then shipped all over the world. We have since moved away from that industry to a retail service industry, education, and healthcare economy. I’m originally from Lincoln, ME but I’ve been in Bangor for 10 years.
Can you give us a little background on your journey — how you got to your present position as City Clerk?
I became a clerk back in 1991 in the Town of Lincoln, Maine. It wasn’t anything that I had aspired to be. I had been working for an attorney but unfortunately, he passed away. My brother told me about an opening in Lincoln for a Town Clerk. I didn’t know anything about being a Town Clerk but I said, “I’ll try it. It’s my hometown.“ So I was hired and I was the clerk there for 21 years. During that time, I moved into the Town Manager position in Lincoln and I was there for four years. I discovered that I didn’t really enjoy the position of Town Manager as much as I liked being a clerk. So, when the City of Bangor had an opening for City Clerk, I applied and got the job. I’ve been here now for 10 years.
What are some of your day-to-day duties as City Clerk?
In a lot of municipalities in Maine the office of clerk is a combination of Town Clerk and Tax Collector. In Bangor, the two are separate. Here our duties are strictly clerk related. We handle records management and we house all of the council records. We update the code book, we have business licensing, hunting, dog licensing, vital records — birth, death, and marriage. One of the biggest things we do is overseeing elections for the city, which takes up a lot of our time.
What do you like most about your position?
Handling elections is really what I like because there’s a lot to that. There’s a lot of organization. There’s a lot of moving pieces that you have to coordinate and make sure everything is run properly. We have to protect this process. Today especially, people are depending on us to make sure that everything is done and done correctly. That’s really important.
Do you work closely with your constituents?
I do have a lot of contact with the public. Everybody knows who I am mainly because at election time, I’m on TV all the time. I’m very accessible to the television stations here in Bangor. So, they’re quick to reach out to me.
When somebody calls the town or city, they usually ask for the Town Clerk because they think we have all the answers. We might not have all the answers, but we know who to send them to. So, we can make referrals to different offices when people have questions.
How has the position of City Clerk changed over the years?
The climate of our country now has changed so much. It used to be that people were happy to see you. People in your community wanted to just connect, but now there’s a lot more anger, angst, and distrust. So that is a whole new level that we have to deal with, especially with elections. The clerks in Maine are very proactive with our State Legislature and we actually had a bill this year initiated to make it a crime to threaten the people tasked with running elections.
What about technology? How has that changed over the years for you?
I’ve been around from the days of very basic computers so to go to what we have now is like night and day. The technology that we have to assist us with our job is phenomenal.
Technology across the board has really improved everything. Take (eCode360), for example. When I was in Lincoln, I didn’t have any of that technology, so I had to update the code book myself and make sure that everything was correct. That was quite a chore keeping the code up to date every time there were ordinance changes and such. And so now (with the online code) it is so easy. I just send things off and the code is immediately updated with the new laws. It’s right at everybody’s fingertips too, so nobody has to wait for the information anymore.
How important to your community is it to keep your code updated?
It’s extremely important, especially here in Bangor, because the code changes about every two weeks. When people are working on projects and they need the most up to date code, they’re going to have it. They’re not going to be looking at something and wondering if the information is correct. They know they have the latest version.
So, if you could talk to someone who wants to be a municipal clerk, what would be your best advice?
I would say network with other clerks. That’s extremely important because there are some of us who have been around for a long time –we have the answers because we have lived the job and know it. And we freely give that information out to everybody. We want to share and help each other to learn and grow.
Other advice would be to take all the classes that are provided through the associations.
Learn as much as you can. Read the code book and read all of the laws that you may need to know in your job. Learn all of those things, so that you can provide the customer service that is needed by the public.
How important is education? How do you educate yourself and strive to improve every day?
I’ve learned that you have to be proactive in your education to learn what you need to do your job and excel in it. I do not have a college degree and I have learned by taking classes through the state association– the New England Association of City and Town Clerks — and the International Institute of Municipal Clerks.
The Maine Town & City Clerks Association has an extremely well put together program that we run every year and it’s taught by clerks. It has all the nuts and bolts that clerks need to help them do their jobs. For example, we have one class on vital records, we have another on municipal law, and it goes right down to election training. All of those things we provide to the clerks every year as part of their membership in the association. Then clerks can expand on what they have learned through what’s offered by The New England Association of City and Town Clerks, which covers topics such as management, computers, and public speaking, all of which help the clerks to succeed.
Do you mentor any up-and-coming clerks?
Actually, in our association, we have a mentor program. We know who our new members are and make a point of reaching out to them. We have a whole packet of things to welcome them so that they feel included and able to ask those questions that they need answered. Those of us who have been around for a while sign up as mentors. New clerks are able to access the list of mentors to select someone to reach out to for answers to their questions.
A quick story: Back in 2020, I worked with the lady who got elected clerk in a small town just north of Bangor with maybe 100 people in the community. She had to run an election and she had no idea what she needed to do. So, I helped her just to get the items that she needed to comply with state law –notices and such–just those simple things that I take for granted that we just have to do. Somebody who’s never done the job doesn’t have that important knowledge.
What are some of the conferences and association events that you attend every year that you find helpful?
I attend the clerk’s Networking Day in Maine. It’s a day to meet and talk with all of the clerks and get to know them. So, when you do have questions, you can say, ‘I remember talking to her at this meeting, so I’m going to call her.’ I also attend The New England Association of City and Town Clerks conference that rotates between all the New England states each year. And when I can, I go to the national IIMC conference which can be anywhere in the United States or Canada.
Any final advice?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions because there’s always somebody willing to help– no matter how simple you think your question is, or silly or whatever. If there is something that you don’t know, someone else will. We are all here to help one another.