City Secretary’s Office boasts wide array of responsibilities
What do The Colony City Manager, City Attorney, Municipal Court Judge, and City Secretary all have in common? They are the four positions within your local government appointed directly by the City Council.
As such, those four positions are relatively unique in terms of their supervision and access to the Council. During her 12 years as The Colony City Secretary, Christie Wilson has seen a lot of changes, but her duty to the Council and the community she serves has remained the same.
First and foremost, Wilson and Deputy City Secretary Tina Stewart work in support of the City Council regarding administrative matters. “Whatever they need, they just pick up the phone and call us,” Wilson said.
Sometimes those calls are about the membership of the various city boards and commissions, which the Council appoints and oversees with assistance from the City Secretary. But often times those calls are related to items on the City Council’s meeting agendas, which Wilson’s office is responsible for compiling, editing, and publishing. It’s a process that involves every department in the city as well as the City Attorney.
“The City Manager and the Mayor have final oversight of the agenda but our office coordinates with the other departments to compile all the items and ensure the packet material is accurate,” Wilson said.
As part of a City Council effort to reduce paper and streamline the process, the city recently implemented new software that manages and automates creation of the agenda.
“It’s been an ongoing challenge for about six months. We still don’t have it the way it needs to be, or the way I want it, but we’re working on that,” Wilson said. “It’s a definitely a welcome step forward though.”
This kind of work requires an attention to detail of the highest caliber. When you’re responsible for managing so many official documents, there’s an expectation of perfection. “We use a lot of checklists in here so we don’t forget something. There are so many tiny details,” Wilson said. “Everything doesn’t always go out the door 100 percent as we’d like but we strive for that.”
And she has the educational background to meet that expectation. By state law, city secretaries are required to go through an education process for certification as a Texas Registered Municipal Clerk. They must also maintain the certification through a continuing education program.
“The Texas Registered Municipal Clerk certification program is based out of a home office at the University of North Texas,” Wilson said. “There are about 200 hours of homework time and certain books and study materials you must read before taking tests. Once you meet all the requirements and get your certificate, then you start your five-year window for the re-certification process. My position and the Deputy are both required to maintain certification.”
In addition to reporting to the Council, Wilson said she prides herself on being responsive to city staff so they can do their jobs more efficiently. As the official records manager for the city, staff members rely on the City Secretary to help draft policies, retain important records, and provide reference documentation for various projects.
But requests from residents and the public in general are also at the top of the priority list.
“We have anywhere between 50 and 60 public information requests that come through here each month,” Wilson said. “We make sure those get filled in a timely manner.”
The City Secretary’s Office produces a quarterly report for the Council that shows trends occurring with public information requests.
“We get a lot of requests from commercial companies and construction companies, for example, seeking fire damage reports and information about building permits,” Wilson said. “Some of those are every week. We used to only get a handful but it’s become the majority over the last few years.”
The regulations that govern public information requests come from the State Attorney General’s Office, and it’s yet another area in which clerks must keep themselves educated on an ongoing basis.
While the duties of a City Secretary (or City Clerk) vary from city to city, one constant is that they are responsible for maintaining the corporate seal. Each incorporated city has both embossed and ink seals that serve as marks of authentication for the city.
“When we do proclamations, for instance, we have an embossed gold seal,” Wilson said. “Many, many documents come through our office requiring some kind of mark or stamp to authenticate and attest with a signature that this is a real person that signed a given document, and that it’s an official city document.”
Historically, the City Secretary has also managed the City Council elections. In recent years, however, the city has contracted with the Denton County Elections Administration to provide those services. The contract includes management of the polling sites, supplying election workers, and providing and programming the equipment.
“Simply put, the county has more resources for the whole process and more storage space for the equipment. They also have the ability to find election workers, which was always an issue for us,” Wilson said. “The costs were up the first year but have been more predictable the second time around. Overall it has made elections much easier on my office.”
The council meetings, however, ultimately comprise the bulk of the City Secretary’s work. Not only do they produce the agenda, they record the minutes for public record.
“Although the meeting is being video recorded, I’m still old school and like a paper packet in front of me,” Wilson said.
Each agenda item has a corresponding sheet in which the secretary notes the voting results, specific motions, the time, and anything else that might seem relevant. When keeping the minutes, Wilson said she tries to keep in mind that people reading the minutes 10, 20, or 50 years from now need to understand the impact of the vote in terms of pros and cons, comments or questions that affected the vote, and information shared in the chambers that was not originally included in the agenda item’s presentation.
“Knowing the packet content in advance helps a lot but I keep it simple by doing what’s called summary minutes,” Wilson said. “If I’m not 100 percent clear in my notes, I can always go back to the video.”
Other duties of the City Secretary’s Office include managing and processing applications from businesses for alcohol sales, including collection of local fees, and processing liens as part of Community Image violations. As the city has grown in recent years, a new full-time Records Management Specialist, Dianne Johnson, was hired to assist the City Secretary and Deputy City Secretary with these and other tasks.
Once Johnson obtains her Records Manager Certification, she will be the only city employee to accomplish this. It’s a process similar to the clerk’s certification and will take a few years to complete.
“We’re excited to be full-staffed and moving forward to make things more efficient and more responsive for the benefit of the Council, city staff, and our residents,” Wilson said.
Before becoming the Deputy City Secretary in 2001, Wilson spent 15 years in The Colony Police Department. She’s been with the city 30 years and provides a wealth of institutional experience for the staff and community she serves.
“I don’t think I would’ve stuck around this long if I didn’t enjoy it or didn’t think I was providing a valuable service to the community,” she said. “There’s always a plan for each day but you can usually throw that out the window. We do what we need to do. When we have time and opportunity, we do a little more. You ebb and flow with whatever walks through the door.”