Evanston is looking forward to primary and consolidated elections. On Feb. 23, voters will choose candidates for Mayor, Aldermen for two wards and City Clerk. Many organizations are sponsoring meetings to allow candidates to present their views and voters a chance to hear from competing candidates. The League of Women Voters of Evanston is working with Evanston Public Library to present forums for Mayor and Clerk on Jan. 30 and Alderman of Wards 8 and 4 on Feb. 2 and 3.
At the last Municipal elections, members of the League of Women Voters realized they were not familiar with the duties of the City Clerk. We formed a review committee of 10 persons and worked for more than a year to get a better understanding of the duties of City Clerk and operations of Clerk’s Offices in Evanston and other communities. Our focus was on the role and responsibilities of the office of City Clerk, and not on any specific clerk.
The committee reviewed the Illinois State Statute defining the office, City of Evanston ordinances that reaffirmed duties designated by the State and added others, and the description posted on the City’s website. Next, some members of the committee met with the Evanston City Clerk to inform him of the review and ask him about his priorities for the office.
The committee developed a survey used to interview clerks from 10 Illinois municipalities, primarily in Cook County. Information gathered included their main functions, training received, the number of years in the job, whether it was full-time or part-time, elected or appointed.
In Evanston, we interviewed current and past aldermen, City staff, and City Clerks. Our goal was to understand how the responsibilities of the office varied in different communities and had changed over the years. We also learned how the Evanston City Clerk operations compared to those elsewhere.
A key characteristic that emerged is that the responsibilities of the City Clerk are administrative, not policy-oriented. Essentially everyone we interviewed thought the basic State statutory requirements to be clear and appropriate. Basic duties for the Clerk in Evanston and elsewhere include “to provide notice, attend, and prepare minutes of meetings of the City Council, and convey resolutions and communications from meetings, keep the corporate seal and maintain records belonging to the municipality, serve as the local election official, and may act as an FOIA officer.”
In our research, we interviewed both elected and appointed city clerks. There were no consistent differences in their approach to the job or the range of responsibilities. Some of them were full-time positions, and others held part-time positions. Some enumerated duties are done elsewhere within the city staff. Most of the information and records used are now available online or from other City offices. Many of the clerks we interviewed described their work as fully integrated in the City administration. Current Illinois reform groups are calling for consolidation or elimination of the large number of elected officials in Illinois to improve efficiency and reduce costs of government. All these issues deserve thoughtful consideration.
We are looking forward to meeting with candidates for City Clerk on January 30 at 3:00 pm and asking them about their vision for serving as City Clerk. Evanstonians can participate in the forum by registering on the League website: lwve.org/2021-consolidated-election. It will also be available on the LWVE YouTube channel.
Submitted by Elizabeth Hayford and Cheryl Wollin for the League of Women Voters of Evanston