Friday, June 22, 2007
What's it like to be Carlisle's Town Clerk?
"I have always felt that the Town Clerk is sort of the 'Good Will Ambassador' for the town," states Charlene Hinton, Carlisle's Town Clerk, whose job brings her in daily contact with town residents. The Mosquito, as part of an occasional series on municipal employees, recently spoke with her to learn about her job. Unlike most elected officials, the Town Clerk's job is a full-time paid position. Hinton was hired in 2003, and was reelected last year to a three-year term ending in 2009.
Hinton was born and raised in the South but has since decided that Carlisle is the place she wants to be. She graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in mathematics and played clarinet in the University of Florida marching band. She has always been a strong supporter of her alma mater's football team, the Florida Gators. "My biggest hobby — as anyone who has ever been in my office can attest — is supporting my beloved Florida Gators," states Hinton. "Down south, college football is almost a religious experience and Gator football has always been my passion." However, after spending years in Florida, Georgia and even Seattle, the Hinton family has fallen in love with the town and the people of Carlisle.
Working in a close-knit community is what Hinton likes best about her job. "Being Town Clerk is a dream job to me. It is the most fulfilling job I have ever had. I love being able to meet so many of our residents and I truly enjoy being able to help them either by having the answers they need, or by finding them the correct source to pursue their questions with," said Hinton. "I consider myself very fortunate to have the opportunity to serve the town in this way."
Responsible for records
The main goal of the Town Clerk is to be the keeper of records for the town, however, that role is evolving. The clerk is responsible for maintaining town records of births, deaths, marriages, cemetery deeds, burials and interments. "As Homeland Security rules get more stringent, the activity in our office related to certified copies of birth and marriage certificates will increase," states Hinton. "The Real ID federal regulations will require everyone to present a certified birth certificate to obtain a drivers license and a certified copy of the marriage license if their surnames have changed." Although the job has become increasingly computer-oriented, many transactions must still be done by hand or typewriter, such as marriage certificates, home birth and adoption certificates. These must all be typed without erasures or strikeovers. It is time-consuming but necessary for security reasons.
The Town Clerk's office is responsible for keeping copies of Planning Board decisions and Town Meeting warrants and minutes. Zoning and general bylaw changes are processed with the State Attorney General's Office by the Town Clerk. This process involves collecting documents related to the hearings, newspaper advertisements of proposed changes, certified copies of the votes and annotated copies of the bylaws before, during and after the proposed changes. It is also the first and last stop in the process for obtaining special permits and variances from the Zoning Board of Appeals. Applications are filed in the clerk's office and held there during the 20-day appeal period after a decision is filed.
The busiest time of year for the Town Clerk's office is during the census cycle and leading up to elections and Town Meetings. Pre-election work such as ordering ballots, processing new registrations and sending out and receiving absentee ballots keeps both Hinton and her Assistant Town Clerk Irene Blake very busy. Blake is scheduled to work about eight hours each week; however, her schedule is varied to allow for more hours during the busy times and less hours in the summer when things are slower.
Ann Wright works in the office about eight hours each week, largely as a volunteer but with part of her hours paid under the senior tax work program, where qualifying senior citizens can work for the town in exchange for a partial real estate tax abatement. "I cannot imagine how some of our tasks would get done were it not for the generous commitment of time made by Ann," states Hinton. Eva Herndon and Kerri Piette are volunteer election wardens. They organize the volunteers who work on election day and spend hours calling and e-mailing other volunteers, setting up schedules for the election workers and counters. "The tireless effort of all our volunteers is remarkable," states Hinton.
Statewide honors and responsibilities
Hinton is a member of the Massachusetts Town Clerks Association and attends all three of the conferences held each year. "This group of clerks is a wonderful source of information on how to do the various tasks that I am responsible for," states Hinton. "There is an e-mail users group where we share tips with each other on things such as getting the word out that the census forms need to be returned, handling check-in at Town Meeting, training election workers and more." She was recently elected as Treasurer for the organization and is part of the elections task force, a group that is studying election methodology and changes that are being made on both a state and federal level. Last year, Hinton taught classes at two of the conferences on election law changes. "Being involved in the task force allows me to stay on top of all these changes, both potential and actual," states Hinton.
Praises fellow employees
"There are only about 25 people in Town Hall, many of whom are part-time employees working just a few hours a day, two or three days a week. But regardless of the number of hours worked, I think every Town Hall employee is more dedicated than many of the people I have worked with in the private sector," states Hinton. "The people here really do want to help the residents of Carlisle. The pay is low, but the thanks and goodwill that are returned by the residents help make the job worthwhile to me."
© 2007 The Carlisle Mosquito