Second-class cities should appoint clerks

South Bend Tribune

It was seven years ago when the Indiana Commission on Local Government Reform issued a 46-page report titled “Streamlining Local Government: We’ve got to stop governing like this.”

The commission was launched under former Gov. Mitch Daniels and was chaired by two former leaders in state government — Randall T. Shepard, former chief justice of the Indiana Supreme Court, and Joseph E. Kernan, former Indiana governor and South Bend mayor.

A total of 27 recommendations came out of the report, affecting offices and personnel from the lowest levels of township government to schools and city governments.

We supported much of the report, but it was one recommendation that we recalled following the recent South Bend city election that made a lot of sense then and still makes sense today.

It is Recommendation 15: “Allow the city council to appoint the city clerk in second-class cities.” The time is right for this reform.

The report states: “City clerks in second-class cities are elected. Because we believe that positions that are purely administrative should be appointed positions, we recommend that the clerk, as secretary to the city council, become an appointed position under the management of the city council.”

The clerk is responsible for keeping city records, city ordinances, the Municipal Code Book and the City Seal.

The clerk attends all regular and special meetings of the council and is required to keep an accurate journal of all those meetings. The clerk’s office also provides clerical assistance to all council members.

According to its own website, the clerk can have as many staff members as he or she determines necessary. Right now, according to the city budget, there are five employees operating with an office budget totaling $425,958.

Of that, $231,395 is set aside for salaries and wages. Those include the city clerk, $58,300; chief deputy city clerk, $48,726; and the deputy city clerk, $43,246, among others.

The role of the clerk’s office largely can be likened to that of a secretary for the council.

There is no need for the office to become embroiled in a divisive political campaign as it did with this city election. The office operates strictly in an administrative capacity and has no role in drafting a city budget, approving expenditures or adopting ordinances. All of that is done by the council.

An appointed clerk would not be obliged to campaign and raise money and instead could concentrate solely on performing the duties expected of the office.

This year a perfect storm of circumstances that combined personalities and candidates with agendas all conspired to create the bitter, nasty campaign that voters witnessed this spring in South Bend. None of it served the public.

A clerk must be competent, professional and able to serve the nine-member council efficiently and effectively. Nothing more.

But, as Kernan and Shepard wrote in the prologue of their report: “The time for a leaner, more effective government is at hand. It will only come to pass if the people of Indiana insist on it.”

This column was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to