May 2015 - Role of the Muncipal Clerk

The Role of the Muncipal Clerk
By Claire Silverman, Legal Counsel, League
the municipal clerk plays a pivotal role in each municipality. In the past, many municipal clerks were elected and took office with only a general knowledge of their duties. While some clerks are still elected, many municipalities have changed the method of selecting the clerk from elected to appointed,1 given the magnitude and complexity of the clerk’s duties, and the broad-based but specialized knowledge clerks must have to complete those duties. To help municipal officials better understand what the clerk does, this legal comment provides a brief, general overview of the municipal clerk’s basic duties.
The municipal clerk’s basic duties are set forth in the Wisconsin statutes, in secs 61.25 (villages) and 62.09(11) (cities). Although the wording of the statutes governing village and city clerks are very similar, they are not identical. While you may wish to consult the statutes for the specific details, basic statutory duties include the following:

    care and custody of the corporate seal and municipal papers and records and transfer of those records to the clerk’s successor;2


    allowing inspection of those records as permitted by Wisconsin’s public records law;


    attending common council or village board meetings and keeping a full record of the proceedings;3


    maintaining a minute book with governing body proceedings;


    countersigning all ordinances and resolutions adopted and publishing or posting as required by law and recording proof thereof;


    maintaining an ordinance book noting all ordinances adopted, in chronological order, with information pertinent to the adoption;


    maintaining records of all licenses and permits granted, as well as recording all bonds;


    notifying persons elected or appointed to municipal offices; notifying other governmental offices of elections as necessary;


    administering oaths and affirmations;


    drawing and countersigning orders on the municipal treasury in accordance with statutory requirements and maintaining accounts thereof in the appropriate books;


    keeping an accurate account with the treasurer and charging the treasurer with all tax lists presented for collection and with all moneys paid into the treasury; and notifying the county treasurer by February 20, of the proportion of property tax revenue and of the credits under sec. 79.10 that is to be disbursed by the taxation district treasurer to each taxing jurisdiction located in the municipality; village clerks must make and deliver a tax roll to the village treasurer and make and transmit to the county treasurer, on forms provided by the department of revenue, a statement showing the total amount of all taxes levied in the village;


    stamping or endorsing street trade permits at the request of an employer under sec. 103.25 (3m) (b) and stamping or endorsing traveling sales crew worker permits at the request of an employer under sec. 103.34 (11) (c);


    responsibility for elections and voter registrations.4

Although the above list is extensive, it is not all-inclusive. Other statutes governing specific subjects often impose additional duties on the clerk or require the clerk to take certain actions. For example, in cities and villages with a Board of Review (BOR) comprised of municipal officials, sec. 70.46 makes the clerk a member of the board, except in 1st class cities, as well as the recording secretary and BOR records custodian. Other examples include the statutes governing annexation which require the clerk to take certain actions when annexation petitions are filed or annexation ordinances are enacted. Numerous statutes require the clerk to convey information to specific state departments (e.g., the clerk must send a list of liquor licensees to the Department of Revenue annually). With a broad brush, sec. 61.25(9) requires the clerk to “perform all other duties required by law or by any ordinance or other direction of the village board.”
What happens when the clerk is absent or unable to perform his or her duties? The statutes authorize the clerk to appoint, in writing, a deputy clerk who shall act under the clerk’s direction and, in the clerk’s absence or disability, perform the clerk’s duties.5
Municipal clerks have broad responsibility. In some municipalities, the position of clerk has been combined with other offices or positions such as, for example, treasurer and/or administrator. Without a municipal clerk or someone to perform the clerk’s duties, chaos would reign and, eventually, things would grind to a halt. Hopefully this overview of the clerk’s duties and role will make municipal officials more knowledgeable and appreciative of the important role played by the municipal clerk.
Officers 772
  1.  Changing the method of selecting the clerk requires adoption of a charter ordinance under sec. 66.0101. Secs. 61.197(2) (villages) and 62.09(3)(b)6 (cities).
  2.  Sec 61.25; 19.21(2).
  3.  Sec. 61.25(3); sec. 62.09(11)(b).
  4.  The time municipal clerks must devote to election matters has increased dramatically in the last 15 years with the enactment of new federal and state laws. Clerks must attend elections training at least once every two years, and are responsible for training other election officials. Election duties include the following specific duties as well as “any others which may be necessary to properly conduct elections or registration:” Sec. 7.15(1) Equip polling places; provide for the purchase and maintenance of election equipment; prepare and deliver ballots, including absentee ballots; prepare necessary election and registration notices and publications; thoroughly and systematically inspect the conduct of elections in the municipality so that elections are honestly, efficiently and uniformly conducted; discharge election officials for improper conduct or willful neglect of duties and report suspected election frauds, irregularities or violations of which the clerk has knowledge to the district attorney; review, examine and certify the sufficiency and validity of petitions and nomination papers; direct how and when to destroy the contents of the blank ballot boxes and unused election materials; assure adequate staffing at all polling places; issue a call for election and prepare and distribute ballots whenever the governing body of any municipality submits any question to a vote of the electors or whenever a proper recall petition and certificate are filed; maintain a free access information system for voters who vote under sec. 6.96 or 6.97; provide requested information to the Government Accountability Board (GAB) and assist GAB in educating voters about the voting process; reasonably accommodate voting accommodation requests made by individuals with disabilities whenever feasible; post information regarding outstanding provisional ballots as soon as possible after polling places have closed.
   5. Wis. Stat. Secs. 61.19 and 62.11(i).