V. City Clerk Powers and Duties

Selection and appointment

Most city clerks are appointed. However, in the past, many clerks were elected to the position. There are two main reasons for the change: residency and politics. All elected city officials must reside in the city, so many cities changed the office to an appointive one when voters elected a clerk living outside the city. Politically, a clerk can garner more support than an alderman and this could create problems. For example, there have been situations in which clerks who were elected citywide balked at orders from aldermen who were elected from part-city wards.

An ordinance should outline how to select the clerk and the post’s general duties. To change the office from elective to appointive, the ordinance that provides for election needs to be repealed. To change the
office from appointive to elective, an ordinance should be adopted.

Functions of the clerk

The clerk is the city’s business manager or office manager — even in cities that lack an office. The clerk handles all of the city paperwork. He or she receives the city’s mail, prepares responses for the board to approve, makes purchases for the city between board meetings (with permission of the board) and conducts city business when the board is not in session.

Records custody

Because the clerk receives, files and keeps city records, it’s reasonable the he or she be designated the custodian of records as required by law (610.023). [A form for making this designation is in the back of this manual.] The custodian’s name and contact information must be posted where city notices are posted.

Tax extensions

The county clerk is to deliver an abstract of all the taxable real and personal property inside the city to the mayor on or before Oct. 1 (94.190 [3]). Then, the clerk extends the city’s tax rate against each valuation total, an action that must be authorized by the board. Once this is done, the total amount due is charged against the collector and the books turned over to that person for billing and collecting (94.290). [See IX: Levying Property Taxes.]

Municipal court clerk

The clerk may serve as clerk of the court, hearing ordinance violations. In a city with lengthy court dockets, a second person will be necessary. With light dockets, the clerk can handle these duties. [See VIII: Municipal Court.]


The clerk’s signature and the city seal (if there is one) attest that an ordinance has been properly adopted. On a warrant, it attests that the warrant has been drawn on the proper account and funds are available to cover the face amount when it becomes a check. On a resolution, the clerk’s signature and city seal attest that the board has adopted it. On oaths, it attests that the subject official was properly sworn in. The clerk usually swears in newly elected officials following elections or appointments.

Notices, agendas, legal publications

For every board meeting, the clerk must ensure that proper notice is posted within the required time and that a tentative agenda has been prepared in advance. Most often, it’s the clerk’s task to prepare each semiannual financial report that the board must publish (79.160).

It’s common for the clerk to also be the city budget officer (67.020). This official collects the necessary financial information to draft a proposed budget for board consideration. Because all fiscal information moves through the clerk’s office, it makes the most sense to begin drafting the budget here. [See XII: Budgets and the Budget Process.]

Other duties

As a city representative who is almost always available, the clerk’s office often handles duties that do not easily fit into another office. The board is available monthly or biweekly; the collector is often only available during tax season; the treasurer is available monthly to sign and stub checks. The judge appears intermittently, as does the marshal or chief. Consequently, many miscellaneous tasks wind up on the clerk’s desk. (This variety keeps the job interesting!)