Council looking nationwide for city clerk


BROOKINGS – The Brookings City Council is going national in its search for a city clerk.

“The city clerk plays an important role in any city organization. The city clerk is that person that’s always there working with the public, working with the council, working with staff, to move the governance process forward,” City Manager Paul Briseno said.

Anyone interested in the job must apply online at cityofbrookings.org.

Background

Shari Thornes retired as city clerk in January after 34 years with the city, 19 years as city clerk. Thornes came up through the ranks; there was not a nationwide search before she was appointed city clerk by the council, Briseno said earlier this year. 

In February, the council appointed Angie Ritter as acting city clerk. Two weeks later, the council appointed Bonnie Foster as acting city clerk, citing Foster’s 11 years’ experience as deputy city clerk. At that time, the council indicated they would re-visit the situation in five to six months, evaluate Foster’s performance and decide whether to name her the permanent city clerk. A six-month probationary period is standard for new city employees, Briseno said.

“This current city council said they’d like to go for a national search,” Briseno said.

At that time, it was also decided to look at the job description for the city clerk and hone it to focus primarily on core duties. Other duties could be disseminated and allocated within the organization.

Current developments

The council met May 31 in a retreat at Dakota Nature Park to go over the job description of the city clerk. Briseno and other city staff answered questions the councilors had and explained aspects of the changes he proposed. The councilors proposed additional changes.

The conversation is necessary because the city code is extremely lacking in guidance for the city clerk’s position, Briseno said.

“The form of government we have is listed quite a few times, but the city clerk’s role is about three sentences long,” he said.

That just does not cover the full extent of what the city clerk does, he said, adding it’s up to the council to define the role.

“The city clerk position is an appointed position, and any appointments are made by the city council. Therefore, this process is a city council process,” Briseno said. 

Any time there’s a job opening, “what we always try to do is re-evaluate that position,” Briseno said. “It was essential as we gear up to publicize this job description that we review the job duties defined for the city clerk.”

He said the city clerk’s core duties include resolutions or ordinances, minutes, agenda setting, being the person responsible for the public records and access, assuring transparency in the process, knowing state statutes and open meetings law; working with department heads, staff, outside agencies, and community residents; and being responsive to the city council.

Minimum requirements for the city clerk include a bachelor’s degree in business administration, public administration or related field; and three to five years of progressively responsible experience in government. For a complete list, see the job description at cityofbrookings.org.

Moving duties

Previously, the city clerk had responsibilities with numerous committees; the council wants to move those duties “to departments that have a relationship built with those committees,” Briseno said. 

“We freed up more time for that person to be more successful as a city clerk,” Briseno said.

Plus, the process wasn’t always totally intuitive for the public.

Briseno used the Historic Preservation Commission as an example. Oftentimes, a person would come in to pull a building permit for their project, but then were told they needed to see the city clerk to go through the process. The councilors want the city planner in Community Development to oversee the committee and the process, working in collaboration with the building department.

“Now, they can find it all in one area, making it more convenient for the developer,” Briseno said.

“We saw a more natural fit in some of these other departments,” he added.

The Committee for People Who Have Disabilities and the Human Rights Commission went under the human resources director, Briseno said. City Engineer Jackie Lanning was added to the Disabilities Committee “because Jackie oversees a lot of infrastructure … And she’s also the chief building official so she holds a lot of that knowledge.”

The Sustainability Committee is now under Jake Meshke, assistant to the city manager, “because it does touch a lot of different departments,” Briseno said.

The Public Arts Commission was placed under the Parks Department, “because a lot of the art installation and discussions that we’ve talked about really deal with right of way,” Briseno said, adding the Parks Department is usually responsible for maintaining art pieces with their crew.

Cost

How much this process winds up costing the city depends on who applies and where they are from, Briseno said.

The expenses start with advertising the job opening.

“That includes Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa,” Briseno said.

Advertising with the League of Municipalities can run from $100 to $500 per league, Briseno estimated. National notifications can run from $300 to $600, he said.

Just the search can run into the thousands of dollars – then there’s the candidates’ part of it. Briseno went through the process about a year ago himself when he interviewed to be city manager.

“Having the finalists here, there could be costs in flying them here,” Briseno said. “If you get someone from across the nation, a plane ticket itself could be $1,000.”

Then once they are here, the city pays for their hotel for a night or two, “so they can understand the community and do an interview,” Briseno said.

“It’s not uncommon for a search to be anywhere … from $2,000 to $3,000 per candidate,” Briseno said.

Timeline 

Briseno hopes to name the permanent city clerk sometime in August. That hinges on a loose game plan that includes advertising the position for approximately a month. Mayor Keith Corbett and the human resources director will go through all the applications, with the council fully aware of the scope and selection.

The next steps depend on how many applicants and how qualified they are, Briseno said. He expects five to nine applicants to be interviewed by phone, then those narrowed down to three to five finalists.

“This is the city council process; it’s their appointment,” he said. “It’s up to the city council on who they appoint, the process they take and opening it up.”

Contact Jodelle Greiner at [email protected]

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