5 Questions For The City Clerk – Ilene Simons
The Other Side of Salem City Government
By William Legault
A few months back, as we were preparing for our 2019 election coverage, it was decided to speak with the one person in Salem who has more to do with our elections than anybody else. That would be the Salem City Clerk Ilene Simons. Ilene was appointed last year by the Salem City Council after a public process of applications and interviews. She succeeded Cheryl Lapointe who retired after long and distinguished service to the people of Salem.
The City Clerk is appointed by and works for the City Council and works with the Mayor. This is one way to ensure true separation of powers in city government. Elections are run from the clerks office, absentee voting and vital records are kept, to include laws and ordinances, campaign finance reports, and many other facets of city government. You can also be married by the City Clerk and the Council Chambers are available for the ceremony,
When you walk up the front steps to Salem City Hall, all of the offices on the left of the first floor are staffed by those who work for the City Clerk.
Here is a link to the Salem City Clerks Office.
Now here is the short chat with Salem City Clerk Ilene Simons.
1. Can you briefly explain what a City Clerk does?
The City Clerk is appointed by and reports to the City Council. The City Clerk attends all City Council Regular, Special and Emergency meetings as well as Public Hearings. Records all actions taken at meetings. Prepares and distributes agendas and back up documentation to the Council and posts all meetings and agendas to the City’s website. The clerk is responsible for preparing, maintaining and processing all official Council records from the meetings, such as Orders, Ordinances, Motions, Resolutions, Petitions, Claims and Licenses. Prepares the items necessary for the Mayor to sign, and records and indexes minutes. The City Clerk also administers the oath of office to elected officials and appointments to boards and commissions. We update and maintain a database for these boards and all other licenses that are processed through Council.
The City Clerk is also responsible for preparing and overseeing all Federal, State and Local Elections as well as Early Voting in accordance with all Federal and State Laws and City Ordinances. Serves as an Ex-Officio member of the Board of Registrars. Certifies nomination papers, initiative petitions and election results. Inputs voter registrations, and maintains voting lists. Prepares campaign finance letters to candidates for submitting reports. Administers the annual City Census by mailing forms to each household, updating database and preparing the annual street listing.
The City Clerk oversees the receipt, indexing, filing, issuance, safeguarding and preservation of all vital records – birth, death and marriages. We also issue dog licenses each year and maintain its database. The City Clerk’s office also issues other licenses and permits including business certificates, inflammable licenses and yard sales. Our office is responsible for posting all meeting notices, per the open meeting law, to the official board.
The City Clerk manages all day to day functions of the Office including preparing the annual budget for the City Clerks Office, the City Council and Elections Office. Serves as the keeper of the City Seal. The City Clerk also administers and is keeper of the conflict of interest acknowledgement forms and the On-line Ethics Training Certificates for all of the City’s employees and Board Members. Works with other department to research and resolve issues.
2. On a daily basis what is the most challenging aspect of running the City Clerk’s Office?
There are many day-to-day challenges running the City Clerk’s office. You must learn how to prioritize, adapt, multi-task and delegate. There are days when you plan on getting certain tasks accomplished and then something more important requires your attention. So, you must delegate the original tasks at hand or they will have to wait until the urgency is over. Once you deal with the unexpected, you can then finish your to-do list. Prioritizing is also a key tool to learn. For example, Council Agenda Day takes priority over most any other issue since there is a deadline we have to meet. Also juggling tasks in the same day is important. There are times when Election Day falls on a Council Agenda day. In this case, both are priorities, so you have to keep switching hats during the day to get the agenda done and then your election hat stays on until the very end.
3. Elections are a major part of the job. Can you share some details on how much time and preparation goes into an election?
It is almost impossible to quantify the number of hours it takes to get ready for an election. Our department is preparing for an election all through the year. However, most of the “heavy” work starts in mid-August and continues to the mid-to-end of November. We work until everything that needs to be done is done. Sometimes this involves working late nights and the weekends. I am very lucky to have a very dedicated and knowledgeable staff willing to put in whatever time it takes and to roll-up their sleeves with me in getting all the necessary actions done for the Voters of Salem to go out and cast a ballot on election day.
4. You have taken steps to modernize the way the office operates. An example is the use of iPads to check in voters during the last election, Can we expect to see the City Council operating more electronically and with less paper in the future.
I am always open to finding ways to implement new systems to maximize efficiency in our office. Since I have only held the title of City Clerk for 6 months, I am taking small steps to improve and modernize our office while also making sure the technology works and does what our office needs it to do. As you stated above, I purchased two Electronic Poll Pads last year for Early Voting. These poll pads allowed us to check in voters more quickly. I believe the voters and the workers enjoyed using them.
I have also used more technology by sending out automated phone calls to remind people of the last day to register and to vote on Election Day, as well as posting the information not only on our webpage, but to news and announcements which go out thousands of residents. I have also implemented the ability to order, purchase and pay for vital records on-line and we are the only office that takes credit/debit cards in the office for vital records and other permits and licenses.
Since we are required by law to keep many of our records permanent, we will never be a paperless office. However, over the last few years we have been scanning and emailing the Council agenda and back up documentation to the Councillors so they do not have to physically come and pick up their package or in case they want to bring their laptop to the meetings that contain the scanned documents. The agendas and backup are also posted on-line for the public to view. I have been reviewing and researching certain companies and databases to see what may work best. I have also been researching and gathering information for a new PA system which I think will benefit all of us, the Councillors, the public who attends the meetings and the people at home watching and listening.
5. Who from Salem’s long history would you most like to sit down and speak with over lunch?
The City of Salem is full of rich history and fascinating and wonderful people. A few that come to mind are my dad, Max Talkowsky, Judge Samuel Zoll, Representative Mike Ruane and Mayor Jean Levesque. If I had to pick one, that was not related to me, it would be Judge Zoll. I grew up with his youngest daughter Rachel and he and his family were also members of Temple Shalom. I spent much of my youth at the Zoll’s household. As a child, I remember being mesmerized by him, not by his height or his job, but by the stories he told and how he told them. He spoke gently yet firmly and captivated and drew you in as you were actually living the story. I think it would be awesome as an adult to listen to these stories from him again or even new stories just so I can fully appreciate what a gift he had and learn more from him.
Salem Digest thanks Salem City Clerk Ilene Simons for taking a few minutes to share some details of her job, and some of her thoughts with us