The office of the city clerk has one foot firmly rooted in the past and the other foot stretched to the future, and in this two-part series, I’ll explore this important position.
Charged by state statute as the keeper of the record, the clerk’s office must keep most of its records forever, and that presents some interesting records management issues. The clerk’s office produces accurate information, and disseminating that is achieved in a neutral environment. Confidentiality is its hallmark, and citizens on either side of an issue receive the same helpful, confidential treatment. The members of the council are treated in this same manner. The staff doesn’t take sides for or against any member or any issue and treats all requests for information and research quickly and confidentially. In this way, the clerk serves all citizens fairly.
The clerk is charged by statute to attend all meetings of the corporate authorities, including closed session. Peoria’s council meets weekly and often calls additional special meetings. At this time, the council also has one ad-hoc committee on the water buyout. Additionally, the clerk attends the staff meetings of the city manager and is the only elected official to attend both.
The clerk is responsible for issuing the city council agenda and producing the official minutes. Citizens can access the ear of the council by submitting a letter outlining their issue to the clerk by 10 a.m. each Friday, and they’ll be placed on the agenda. Citizens are often allowed to speak to an item printed on the agenda by requesting privilege of the floor from their council member. The clerk can assist citizens with that. Citizens are welcome to address the council on most issues under "Citizens Request to Address the Council."
To keep citizens informed, council agendas and minutes are available online, (www.ci.peoria.il.us), by mail, e-mail ([email protected]), or by visiting the office. Documents approved at council meetings must be executed; filed with the next level of government, if applicable; numbered and indexed; and then filed in the city’s vaults. The object of this numbering exercise is to be able to produce these documents when called upon. Peoria is fortunate to have one of the best systems in the state. Earlier Peoria clerks developed a manual card system, logging a numbering and indexing system all the way back to Ordinance No. 1 and council communications back to 1939. That system is so efficient and accurate, the office is known for swiftly locating Peoria’s earlier documents. Coupled with current technology, which includes a computerized indexing and document imaging system, the staff can quickly find current documents as well. This past year, City Clerk Mary Haynes won more than $33,000 worth of new technology and is in the process of converting the records to that system so citizens have even faster service.
The clerk certifies original documents and council action for court purposes, and it’s sometimes said, "It ain’t so until the clerk says it’s so!" To achieve this, the clerk must keep accurate and complete minutes and proof of a record of correct notice and publication requirements, if applicable. To certify accurately, the clerk must also be cognizant of how the council was comprised during Peoria’s history because certifications change if the council’s composition changes.
Peoria’s council has changed its composition several times in history. Not very long ago, Peoria had as many as 22 aldermen and a non-voting mayor; then, under the city manager form of government, Peoria had nine council members. And with the implementation of cumulative voting, Peoria now has 11 council members. Today, Peoria has a voting mayor, five district council members receiving one vote per vote cast, and, in staggered terms, five at-large members receiving as many as five votes per one vote cast. Truly, Peoria has one of the most hybrid forms of government and procedures of election in the state, and the clerk interacts in that environment.
The clerk registers voters; acts as a notary; disseminates information to the public and to city employees regarding municipal ordinances, city codes, regulations, and procedures; as well as connecting the numerous citizens who call the clerk’s office with a myriad of questions to the proper source. While some may think this is a dusty, boring, back corner office, each member of the staff in the clerk’s office is asked at least one question a day they’ve never heard before. So interest in the daily activities remains high. Research of council action, reports, studies, plans, and documents make up a large part of the day.
The clerk issues all liquor licenses in the city, which currently governs 210 licensees and 30 sites approved to sell liquor. Peoria has 14 classes and 10 subclasses, and applicants can apply as corporations, partnerships, or individuals. In addition, the clerk issues approximately 62 temporary licenses yearly. The clerk keeps records for applicants, licensees, change of corporate officers, out-of-business entities, site approvals, and renewals, and each has its own process. The clerk also certifies for the court which licensee with a specific class was in business at a specific location on a specific date.
The clerk is the recipient of official filings for the city and administers the Freedom of Information Act for the city, working in cooperation with the legal department. The clerk must also be familiar with the Open Meetings Act, the Local Records Act, the Elections Code, the various statutes on TIFs, annexations, taxation, Pension Code, and the Revenue Act, to name a few.
In addition, the clerk maintains the up-to-date municipal code, as amended, and verifies which code governs the permitted uses or regulations of a particular property or structure, depending upon which code was in effect at a certain point in time. The current code is available in the office, by subscription, or it can be accessed online at, www.ci.peoria.il.us. IBI