With every new job comes an apprehension of what challenges lie ahead. We all have some reservations or fears of the unknown, especially when taking on the large responsibilities that come with being a Municipal Clerk. Whether it’s your first job or your 5th as a Municipal Clerk, the road to success is long and difficult at times, and change is a necessary part of the journey. With that in mind, here’s my take on 3 challenges to prepare for if you are starting at a new organization. For those just starting your career as a Clerk I think this advice really applies as well.
1. Refresh Yourself on Important Legislation
The regulations are endless! There seems to be a rule for just about everything that a local government can and cannot do. Make sure to be razor sharp on the key pieces of legislation that as a Clerk you are expected to know inside and out. In Ontario these would be the Municipal Act, the Municipal Elections Act and the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. Get to know them and refer to them often. With a new organization, or in your first role as a Clerk, you will run into new questions that will challenge your knowledge. Make sure these documents are easily accessible and that extra copies are available when needed.
At the Council table, I have access to all the above legislation as well as pertinent municipal by-laws (ordinances in the US). I can easily refer to them and answer any questions that may come up throughout a meeting. There is a lot of information and you are better off looking it up than guessing and providing something incorrect.
2. Council is Responsible for What?
There is a large hurdle in defining what Council is actually responsible for; and the dynamic is a bit different everywhere you go. This rings especially true in a municipality that may have, even with good intentions, an overly involved Council. Now I hear you, there is no way that members of Council ever overstep their boundaries, right?
The reality, as I am sure any seasoned Clerk knows, is that every now and then you will find yourself faced with an overly eager Councillor who may not quite understand what their role is. It is important to set the ground rules early on and determine what those roles are. This is where a detailed and well planned orientation program comes in. You may have issues if you’re stepping into a Clerk’s position mid-term but there is no time like the present to start planning for post-election orientation.
3. Parliamentary Procedures and Other Processes
The process in which a meeting takes place can vary greatly from municipality to municipality. If you are new to the community I would suggest attending as many meetings as possible before starting your new role. This can save you a lot of uneasiness about conducting your first meeting with that Council. Speak to the CAO, City Manager or other pertinent staff regarding the processes in which this Council prefers their meetings. The Mayor can also provide a good insight into what he/she prefers. This challenge can be greatly reduced with just a little preparation and research. Confidence can go a long way in making it seem like you know what you are doing, even if you aren’t quite there yet!