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Clerks play an important role

Regardless of a municipality's size or form of government, state law requires all cities to have an appointed municipal clerk. The clerk's responsibilities under state law include giving notice of meetings to council members and the public, keeping minutes of its proceedings, and performing other duties as assigned by council.

A combined municipal clerk and finance officer role, referred as clerk/treasurer, is common in small to midsize cities. In larger cities, a standalone municipal clerk position usually exists.

While the statutory duties of a clerk are limited in scope, the reality is that municipal clerks play a critical and varied role to support the mayor, city council and appointed administrative officer.

The International Institute of Municipal Clerks will shine a spotlight on the important work of municipal clerks during its 46th Annual Municipal Clerks Week, May 3-9.

Across South Carolina, longtime and new municipal clerks work every day to serve the public, often juggling numerous duties.

Lisa Still has served as the clerk/treasurer for the small town of Snelling (population: 274) for the past seven years. She is responsible for taking meeting minutes, preparing agendas and budgets, reconciling financial records, and handling questions from constituents who visit town hall.

Still previously worked as the news editor at the People Sentinel in Barnwell. Working for the town has given her a new perspective on local government and elected officials. "When you-re behind the scenes, there's a lot more going on than I realized," she said. "I see how weighty their decisions are."

Lisa Still, Snelling
Lisa Still, Snelling
Charlotte Cheatham, Edgefield
Charlotte Cheatham, Edgefield
Camilla Pitman, Greenville

Camilla Pitman, Greenville
 Clementine Ellis, Cheraw
            Clementine Ellis, Cheraw

 

While Still is fairly new to municipal government, Clementine Ellis has worked for the Town of Cheraw for 33 years, first as a utility billing clerk then as a billing clerk/computer analyst. In January 2009, she was promoted to clerk/treasurer.

As clerk/treasurer, Ellis attends and takes minutes at all council meetings. She is responsible for helping the administrator prepare and submit the town budget to the mayor and council and for reconciling all bank accounts. She handles approximately $3.2 million in investments for the town and makes sure all property and automobiles are taxed properly.

Ellis also assists department heads with financial planning, is responsible for making sure all funds are spent according to budget, and prepares financial information for audits. In addition, Ellis manages staff who work with utility billing, business licensing, building permits and payroll.

For good measure, she even throws in some catering and event planning for council retreats and meetings, as well the Christmas lunch for Cheraw's 107 employees.

Ellis has a passion when it comes to being cautious about spending the town's funds. She finds it professionally rewarding when staff is able to present the mayor and council with a balanced budget and when she gets an audit back that shows the city has remained within budget and controlled spending.

Charlotte Cheatham is a clerk in another small town. She has been the town clerk/treasurer in Edgefield for 34 years.

Working in a small town often requires the clerk to wear many hats. For Cheatham, those include preparing financial reports, issuing permits and business licenses, budgeting, handling human resources issues, and promoting the town and its events. All of this requires Cheatham to be an efficient and productive multitasker, but she said what she enjoys most is being part of her hometown community and helping others.

Many people are surprised to learn "what an outreach person the clerk is for the community and employees-both personally and professionally," Cheatham said. "It is not all paperwork!"

In fact, Cheatham takes great pride in the "above and beyond the call of duty" things she does on a daily basis for council, her fellow employees, Edgefield residents and visitors. City Hall is the place where people go for answers-for help. Many of the requests don't have anything to do with city services, according to Cheatham. 

Visitors lost and looking for hotel accommodations, a resident down on his luck with no electricity for a month, and an employee needing transportation to an urgent medical appointment all find their way to Cheatham's office. And she helps or finds help for everyone.

"That's what it is all about," said Cheatham. "It's about the people not the paperwork." The 6-inch stack of handwritten thank-you notes on her desk affirms her belief. 

Camilla Pitman has been clerk for the City of Greenville since October 2007. Prior to coming to the city in 1995, she served as a legal secretary in Greenville and Greer. During her tenure with the city, she has served as legal office coordinator, interim risk manager, clerk of court and city clerk.

As clerk of a large city, Pitman is focused solely on the clerk role. In her legislative and administrative role, she records and maintains official actions of council, prepares minutes of council meetings, organizes and distributes agendas and supporting documentation for council meetings, and provides administrative support to council.

She also coordinates, on behalf of city council, the applications, appointments and expirations of board and commission members, and manages staff liaisons who support each of the boards and commissions. Greenville averages approximately 135 individuals serving on its various boards and commissions each year.

In addition, Pitman is responsible for the retrieval, storage and preservation of city council records. She also serves as election officer for municipal elections and as staff liaison to the Municipal Election Commission.

Pitman said she enjoys mentoring and networking with other municipal clerks throughout the state as well as globally. A listserve, provided by the South Carolina Municipal Finance Officers, Clerks and Treasurers Association as a benefit to its members, allows municipal clerks to ask questions regarding their duties and responsibilities and to receive assistance from certified and trained municipal clerks, she said.

The Municipal Association and the International Institute of Municipal Clerks provide opportunities for municipal clerks to pursue training and certifications. This allows municipal clerks to expand their education and excel in their profession, she added.

Both Pitman and Cheatham are certified through the IIMC as Master Municipal Clerks. Ellis and Still have both completed the Municipal Clerks and Treasurers Institute, one of the requirements for receiving IIMC certification.