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In this time of sound bytes and impersonal cyber-communication
, the office of City Clerk Mary Morris seemed a throwback to a slower, friendlier time. People wander into or phone the office asking for help in navigating City government or, sometimes, just the City.
In a recent hour-long interview with the RoundTable, Ms. Morris answered four or five calls – and it was lunch time. Most of the callers in fact need information from other departments, and Ms. Morris graciously switched the callers to the proper department.
“The Clerk’s office has always tried to help people and not shuffle them off. …The attitude here is that no question is stupid. We’re here because the salaries are paid by the taxpayers,” Ms. Morris said.
One of many senior staff members taking advantage of the City’s early retirement incentive, Ms. Morris has been in the Clerk’s office since 1989, when she served as deputy City Clerk, and she has served as Clerk since 1997.
The Clerk’s office handles most of the records of City government, Ms. Morris said. She and her staff are record-keepers, election watchdogs, processers of the City’s myriad documents and ordinances, and secretaries of meetings. “We take minutes of all City meetings and process all ordinances and resolutions. We process code amendments and send them to the codifier, create the year’s calendar of meetings and post notices of meetings.” Freedom of Information Act requests come through the Clerk’s office, she said.
For City elections, the Clerk’s office prepares packets for potential candidates. In addition, Ms. Morris said, “We register voters and see that all polling places are accessible.” With early voting and online information, there is not as much election work as before, she said.
The Clerk’s office no longer sells hunting and fishing licenses, Ms. Morris said, “but people still come in and ask.” The office has also suspended the processing of passport applications, something Ms. Morris says she is sorry to see discontinued: “I loved the passports: whole families – mom and dad and kids – taking a trip together.”
It is, Ms. Morris, concedes, a more-than-40-hours-per-week job.
While she has opted for early retirement, joining more than 40 other senior staff colleagues, Ms. Morris says she is somewhat worried “about the loss of institutional memory … We still have people who have been here for a while, but not like [emergency management director] Max [Rubin] or [corporation counsel] Herb [Hill] or [assistant city manager] Judy [Aiello].” She says she is “concerned about the old Evanston.”
As she prepares to leave – her last day is tomorrow – Ms. Morris says she hopes her successor will continue to make public service the direction of the office. “I would like for it to be an office where anybody can come in and be comfortable asking any question about what laws have been passed and what’s going on,” she said.
Council members have still not been able to agree on a person to serve the remainder of Ms. Morris’s term.