MOUNT DESERT ISLAND — “I need to see your old registration, mileage and insurance.”
That’s how many conversations with town clerks start, the ones where a resident is stopping in the town office to register a vehicle.
But it’s really only the tip of the iceberg of how clerks and deputy clerks spend their days.
Recognizing the rest of the iceberg, the many contributions of professional municipal clerks, is the aim of Municipal Clerks Week, celebrated May 1-7 every year.
Mount Desert Island clerks include Town Clerk Liz Graves and Deputy Clerk Lynn Kenison Higgins in Bar Harbor, Town Clerk Claire Woolfolk and Deputy Clerks Jennifer McWain Buchanan and Elizabeth Yeo in Mount Desert, Town Clerk Jennifer LaHaye and Deputy Clerk Sarah Anderson in Southwest Harbor and Town Clerk Katie Dandurand in Tremont. The longest-serving of the group is Buchanan, who began working for former Bar Harbor Town Clerk Jean Barker in 1997.
In Maine, municipal clerks and deputy clerks coordinate town meetings and elections; serve as custodians of official records including birth, death and marriage; issue licenses for dogs, hunting and fishing, and clamming; maintain records of town proceedings; and facilitate appointments to boards and committees. Depending on the size and structure of a town and its staff, clerks may also assist the treasurer or tax collector, issue business licenses, prepare ordinance changes, respond to records requests, oversee town cemeteries and more.
The clerk serves as the information center on functions of local government and community, providing the professional link between the citizens, the local governing bodies and agencies of government at other levels.
The office of municipal clerk is also among the oldest in public service, along with that of tax collector. It dates all the way to days before written history when the memory of the clerk or “remembrancer” served as official public record.
In ancient Greece, where the secretary of a city was charged with reading official documents publicly, “one of his first duties was to decree a curse upon anyone who should seek to deceive the people,” according to a history compiled by the International Institute of Municipal Clerks.
That sentiment is a through-line to the present – professional municipal clerks pledge to be ever mindful of their neutrality and impartiality, rendering equal service to all. The importance of this public trust cannot be overstated, especially amid contentious seasons in local, state and national politics.
“I am proud to have such dedicated public servants performing vital services in communities across our state,” Governor Janet Mills wrote in a letter recognizing Municipal Clerks Week in 2021. “I encourage all Maine people to recognize and appreciate the extraordinary professionalism of our clerks who, particularly during this challenging past year, kept our state and its many local governments functioning at the highest standard.”