New Clerks View Post as Keeper of Town History

By Gina G. Scala | Oct 30, 2019
Photo by: Jack Reynolds

Long Beach Island — Historian, chronicler, recorder. Each, by definition, has to do with being the keeper of the facts of a period, region or social phenomenon. Locally, they’re called municipal clerks. In just 10 days last month, Ship Bottom and Surf City welcomed new municipal clerks who already appreciate their positions with a nod to the past, an eye on the present and a dedication to the upkeep of town history.

From the laws enacted, resolutions adopted and the taking of meeting minutes, it’s all part of a town’s history, said Kristy Davis, the new municipal clerk in Ship Bottom. She began her municipal employee career in the Beach Haven building department in 2015 before being encouraged to go for the deputy clerk position there when it opened the same year.

“If you look at minutes of years at a given time, you see a snapshot (of what was happening),” said Davis. “We are (ultimately) responsible for the history of the town.”

Christine Hannemann, who replaced longtime Surf City borough clerk/administrator Mary Madonna last month, agreed.

“I went back to the first meeting book, and you can’t help to start reading the minutes and learning,” said Hannemann, who was hired as an administrative assistant in Surf City in 2015 and rose through the ranks by natural progression. “It’s so interesting.”

While a lot of municipal clerks are taught to just transcribe what happens at a meeting, “We put a little more detail into it. You can always find what has evolved or changed,” Davis said.

Maintaining custody of all minutes, books, deeds, contracts and archival records is part of a municipal clerk’s job as defined by state statute and cited in the New Jersey municipal clerks reference book. Municipal clerks have a litany of state-mandated duties, including secretary to the governing body; chief registrar of voters; administrative officer; chief administrative officer of all elections held in their municipality; and records coordinator and manager. In Ship Bottom and Surf City, as in many other Jersey Shore resort communities, there are other responsibilities.

“We are the queens of modifying and adapting,” Hannemann said, noting that in Surf City everyone works together to help each other. She credits that atmosphere to Madonna. “It feels better having (to wear) all the hats and being responsible to your public.”

That sense of helping each other extends beyond the confines of town hall to other communities on Long Beach Island, according to Davis.

“If you need something, all you have to do is pick up the phone,” she said. Davis took over for longtime Ship Bottom Borough Clerk Kathleen Wells last month after spending more than a week working with Wells during the transition period. “I still call Kathy if I have a question or can’t find something.”

It’s repeatedly been said that municipal clerks on Long Beach Island are unique, that they do more for their town than just state and local mandated duties. They wear many hats – always have and always will because of that small-town feeling on the Island. These clerks are busy, and in some ways they are busier in the off-season than they are during the summer months.

Recently, Davis and Hannemann acted as office receptionists, fielding calls for other departments and taking notes or transferring the call. Some might wonder why, but they embrace their roles on the first line in dealing with the public as the liaison between residents and the governing body.

“My favorite part is dealing with the public,” Davis said. “It’s also the easiest because I enjoy it. Our job is to educate the public.”

Hannemann echoed, saying she always tries to put herself in the shoes of a member of the public.

“Patience and understanding go a long way. We do our best to find a solution,” she said. “We don’t have time limits on public comment because we’d rather someone take 10 minutes of our time and leave happy because they’ve been heard,” even if a solution hasn’t been found or it isn’t what they wanted to hear.

But education is a two-way street, according to Davis, who wasn’t looking for a new opportunity when the Ship Bottom position opened. For the second time in her career, she was encouraged by Beach Haven officials to throw her hat in the ring.

“You can come into work (with an idea of what the day is going to look like), and nine out of 10 times what happens (isn’t what you expected),” Davis said. “It’s forever changing, but never boring.”

— Gina G. Scala

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