The municipal clerk is the oldest of public servants in local government, along with the tax collector. The profession traces back before Biblical times. For example, the modern Hebrew translation of town clerk is "Mazkir Ha'ir" which literally translated, means city or town reminder: "The early keepers of archives were often called remembrancers," and before writing came into use their memory served as the public record.
When the early colonists came to America they set up forms of local government to which they had been accustomed, and the office of clerk was one of the first to be established. When the colonists first settled in Plymouth, Massachusetts, they quickly appointed a person to act as recorder. That person kept all the vital records for birth, marriages, and deaths for the church, as well as various other records of appointments, deeds, meetings, and the election of officers at the annual town meeting.
Over the years, municipal clerks have become the hub of government, the direct link between the inhabitants of their community and their government. The clerk is the historian of the community, for the entire recorded history of the town (city) and its people is in his or her care.
The eminent political scientist, Professor William Bennett Munro, writing in one of the first textbooks on municipal administration (1934), stated:
"No other office in municipal service has so many contracts. It serves the mayor, the city council, the city manager (when there is one), and all administrative departments without exception. All of them call upon it, almost daily, for some service or information. Its work is not spectacular, but it demands versatility, alertness, accuracy, and no end of patience. The public does not realize how many loose ends of city administration this office pulls together."
These words, written more than 50 years ago, are even more appropriate today.