The Value of Clerk Succession Planning

Lena Eisenstein
A little-known fact about municipal clerks is that, from a historical perspective, town clerks were one of the first positions created in local government. Today, the municipal clerk position remains a vital part of local government. Clerks go by various names including municipal clerk, city clerk, town clerk, or city secretaries. The municipal clerk is often the first and foremost face-to-face link between the government and its residents.

What most clerks love about their jobs are the very things that make replacing clerks so difficult. They're responsible for a wide variety of duties and responsibilities which makes every day challenging, unpredictable, and never boring. Municipal statutes outline the exact duties and responsibilities for clerks.

Municipal governments across the U.S. and Canada are becoming increasingly aware that their workforce is getting older. The Pew Research Center tells us that millennials now outnumber baby boomers in the workforce. Furthermore, they expect millennials to make up 75% of the workforce within the next 10 years.

For many municipal governments, the thought of losing their municipal clerk makes them realize just how big the clerk's shoes are to be filled. Early succession planning for the municipal clerk position can help local governments make the transition of the clerk position easier with a little forethought and advance planning.

Understanding What Clerks Do

Over time, the clerk's position has become increasingly professional. Many states require their clerks to take formal training and obtain a professional clerk certification. The International Institute of Municipal Clerks (IIMC) offers certifications for Certified Municipal Clerk and Master Municipal Clerk. Clerks must attend a minimum of 120 hours of classroom training. Some states require even more training.

Clerks are the secretary to the governing body. In this role, they're required to post notices for meetings, take roll call, and take meeting minutes. They're also responsible for maintaining all official municipal records, keeping the official seal, issuing licenses and permits, and retaining historical records.

A municipal clerk works behind the scenes to make sure that the local government runs smoothly. The position requires being knowledgeable about daily operations in the community. Citizens rely on their municipal clerk for copies of public documents. Clerks are responsible for providing transparency in local government.

Perhaps one of the most important duties that clerks have is managing local elections.

What Is Succession Planning?

It merely takes reviewing the shortlist of municipal clerk duties to understand the void that's left when a municipal clerk leaves their position. The human resources department is responsible for some succession planning duties, but the role of succession planning transcends many local government departments. A well-constructed succession planning process ensures that incoming workers are prepared to fill vacancies on short notice. Succession planning is vital for continuity when a person that carries important duties leaves a municipal office.

Municipal governments are prudent to consider that succession planning involves much more than merely increasing employee training. Succession plans will ensure that municipal governments have the development capacity to take advantage of the increased technical proficiency and expertise that millennials have to offer. This is also a prime time to invest in technology that's designed for efficiency in local government such as a board portal by iCompass, a Diligent brand.

Municipal governments will need to develop an ongoing process to identify, assess, and develop talent to make certain that leadership, management, and supervisory duties maintain continuity throughout municipal government. Sound succession planning requires advocacy and visible training by all members of the executive leadership team.

The Value in Clerk Succession Planning

Perhaps the person most affected by the vacancy of the clerk position is the city manager. City managers rely heavily on the breadth and knowledge of their municipal clerks. In filling a vacancy for the position, city managers need a municipal clerk that can fill the role professionally and reliably while getting up to speed quickly.

Small municipalities are especially impacted when a prominent employee leaves. Municipal clerks retain vast amounts of institutional knowledge. They know how and why past decisions were made. The job of a municipal clerk bears big shoes to fill because clerks handle a large amount of varied duties. When they leave, they take much institutional knowledge with them.

A well-planned succession program takes into consideration how the workforce aligns with strategic and operational plans. The process requires staff to identify and implement strategies to transition from the current workforce to the workforce they need currently and moving into the future. This is an opportune time to start the process of building capacity to shape the workforce to contend with emerging trends, shifts in priorities, and technological advances.

The impending vacancy of a municipal clerk may signal a cultural change in municipal government as staff begins to recognize that they may need to fill more than one vacancy at a time. Intentional succession planning may highlight the talents and abilities of internal candidates which sets the stage to improve morale. With talk of promotions on the horizon, employees are more likely to take on more responsibility and prove their worth through their achievements.

The City of Fredericksburg, TX, sets a prime example of a municipal government that identified the need for succession planning early and took action to form a succession plan for 2020. Kent Myers, City Manager, took note that he would have six of ten department heads retiring within the next five years. He developed a local government plan that includes a formal needs assessment, a process of identifying future leaders, and a 4-6-month training and development program. Myers considers his succession planning program to be a work in progress which he plans to re-evaluate every 2-3 years. Myers believes his plan will provide the continuity of quality service his community needs in the future.

Myers picked up on a very important facet of succession planning, which is that effective succession planning must be an ongoing, dynamic process rather than a one and done exercise. Succession planning is essential as local governments make the transition from the baby boomer workforce to the millennial workforce. At the same time, succession plans will stand as a platform for the new workers to achieve their goals while supporting the municipal government's goals.
Related Insights
Lena Eisenstein
Lena Eisenstein is a former Manager at Diligent. Her expertise in mission-driven organizations, including nonprofits, school boards and local governments, centers on how technology and modern governance best practices empower leaders at these organizations to serve their communities with efficiency and purpose.