Town and City Clerks: What Don't They Do?
The information contained in this article is not intended as legal advice and may no longer be accurate due to changes in the law. Consult NHMA's legal services or your municipal attorney.
From birth to death, and all the car registrations in-between, there are few municipal officials with as much public visibility as the town/city clerk. Their roles are so varied that there is no single place in the statutes to find a comprehensive list of the clerk's duties. Instead, one must go to numerous statutes including the motor vehicle laws, election laws, vital statistics, planning and land use laws, libraries, and the budget law. That means that, in many cities and towns across New Hampshire the town/city clerk is the face of the community, especially at election time. The public expects the town/city clerk to be the local “information booth,” addressing concerns and answering a variety of questions every day from residents, businesses, visitors, elected officials, co-workers and others. Those questions may range from simple ones that can be answered immediately to the complex “why am I the first one to be asked this” type of question. If a clerk does not know the answer, they know the resources where to find it, including the NHMA. Most clerks are cool-headed, versatile, flexible, detail-oriented, accepting, compassionate, peacemaking, resourceful, diverse, fair, multi-taskers, and above all, have a terrific sense of humor. And, as we know well at NHMA, clerks are al-ways willing to go the extra mile, like coming in early or staying late, to help residents and local businesses with their needs. Heck, we've even seen a town clerk officiate a NHMA staff member's wedding.
Last year, with the pandemic and challenging local and presidential elections, most clerks were over-whelmed and overworked, stressed and stressed again, and the burnout rate was high. It is more important than ever that we thank our town/city clerks for their steadfast dedication and service, as well as for what they do every day to make New Hampshire cities and towns run more smoothly. So, from all of us to you, a BIG thank you!
Just some of the responsibilities of Town and City Clerks...
A vital role of the town/city clerk is as keeper of all of the public records. Many statutes require that in order to be effective certain documents, such as ordinances, by-laws, regulations, and warrants must be on file with the town clerk. As a keeper of public records, it is important that clerks are well versed in RSA 91-A, the Right to Know Law, so that records that should be disclosed to the public are made easily accessible to the public, and those that must be kept from public view pursuant to RSA 91-A:5, are not released.
Recordkeeping & Reporting
Among other duties, the clerk is also responsible for keeping a chronological record of births, marriages and deaths and report this information to the state. After the annual meeting, the clerk must report to various state agencies and other with specified timeframes. For a detailed list of the clerk’s reporting responsibilities and the applicable due dates, refer to the Important Dates Calendars published annually by NHMA.
Registrations and Licensing
Probably the most familiar to the general public is the clerk’s responsibility with regard to registering of motor vehicles, but clerks are also responsible for the licensing of dogs and cats (if the municipality licenses cats). That licensing requirement is a vital reminder to dog owners to avoid replaying the ending of Old Yeller and get their dog a rabies vaccine.
The town/city clerk’s role in the election process is also quite visible to the community. The clerk has too many responsibilities before, during and after municipal elections or town meeting to list here, but suffice it to say that the duties start long before the election and end long after.