Town Clerk reports on ever-expanding position, hopes for more resources

  • Bernardston Town Clerk Paul Luther behind his desk in Town Hall, Wednesday. Recorder Staff/Shelby Ashline

Recorder Staff
Published: 8/4/2017 10:50:25 PM

BERNARDSTON — When Paul Luther began working as town clerk four years ago, he hoped to find a manual to describe his role, sort of a “Town Clerk for Dummies.” But doing so proved easier said than done.

“People would just come in and say ‘I need this,’” Luther said, remembering how he gradually learned his duties.

Though Luther said former Northfield Town Clerk Gail Zukowski offered critical guidance, there seemed to be no description of the Bernardston town clerk’s responsibilities.

“I knew from the very beginning that one of my legacies had to be writing this stuff down,” he said.

Four years later, having a grasp on what life as town clerk is all about, Luther has developed an eight-page report he calls “The Bernardston Town Clerk: Past, Present and Future.” The report, one he presented before the Selectboard Wednesday, outlines Luther’s responsibilities and his ideas of ways to improve the position in the future.

In particular, Luther described small town government, including his position, as “suffering a death by a thousand small unfunded mandates.”

“There are more and more responsibilities that get added, without any consideration for funding,” Luther explained during the meeting. For example, due to new public records request regulations, Luther has taken on the job of co-records access officer, a job he shares with Town Coordinator Hugh Campbell.

To alleviate some of the pressure, Luther proposed that while crafting next fiscal year’s budget, the Selectboard consider increasing funding for Assistant Town Clerk Kristina Costello, doubling it to about $2,000 per year. Doing so would increase his office’s flexibility, Luther said, allowing it to respond to time-sensitive requests more efficiently.

Secondly, he requested the town have a records archivist, whose only task would be to index records that are currently stored in boxes upstairs in Town Hall. Luther is working to go through the documents, which he said date back to the 1800s, but with limited time.

An archivist, Luther proposed, could be appointed by and under the supervision of the town clerk. He proposed pay of $2,000 per year.

“Looking at the mess upstairs, I think Paul has a very valid problem,” Selectboard Chairman Stanley Garland said in support of Luther’s proposals. The board agreed to consider them more carefully when preparing next fiscal year’s budget.

Describing his role through the report, Luther wrote that he works, on average, between 20 and 30 hours per week, and sometimes more. This includes regular town clerk business hours, which are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m., and Wednesdays from 6 to 8 p.m. However, Luther explains in the report he also works during irregular hours that bring him into his office daily, including weekends.

Luther’s responsibilities include: updating voter registration lists; processing birth, death and marriage certificates; processing meeting postings, minutes and agendas; updating the town’s website; recording fees and billing; providing business and residence certificates; processing public records requests; coordinating special and annual town meetings and elections; granting solicitation and raffle permits in coordination with Police Chief James Palmeri; assisting with genealogical inquiries; preparing, mailing and processing the annual town census; processing dog and kennel licenses; overseeing the annual nonpartisan caucus; and compiling the street list.

Reach Shelby Ashline at: sashline@recorder.com

413-772-0261 ext. 257


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