The role of the clerk in town or city government
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NEW HAMPSHIRE MUNICIPAL ASSOCIATION. The Role of the Clerk in Town or City Government. C. Christine Fillmore Staff Attorney, NH Municipal Association September 13, 2013. Agenda. General principles Employees v. Officials

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The Role of the Clerk in Town or City Government

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The role of the clerk in town or city government


The Role of the Clerk in Town or City Government

C. Christine Fillmore

Staff Attorney, NH Municipal Association

September 13, 2013



General principles

Employees v. Officials

Relationship between Clerks and town or city governing bodies/executive officers


General principles

General Principles

  • Municipalities must look to a statute for authority to act.

    • It is not enough that there is no law prohibiting the act.

    • Town statutes apply to cities, but city statutes do not apply to towns.

  • “Home Rule” in NH means only the ability to change the form of local government via the statutory charter process.

General principles1

General Principles

  • Municipalities “only have such powers as are expressly granted to them by the legislature and such as are necessarily implied or incidental thereto.”

    • Girard v. Allenstown, 121 NH 268 (1981).

  • Example: can’t adopt additional qualifications for local office not required by state law. (term limits)

    • Hooksett v. Baines, 148 NH 625 (2002).

General principles2

General Principles

  • “Separation of powers” between two required bodies:

    • “Governing body” means the board of selectmen or town/city council

    • “Town” or “legislative body” means the town meeting or town/city council

      • RSA 21:47 and RSA 21:48

  • Municipality may change its form of organization by Charter Commission – RSA 49-B

General principles3

General Principles

  • “Town Administrator”, not in statute:

    • Employee appointed by the governing body,

      • Duties defined by a written contract, a job description, or a personnel manual.

  • “Town Manager”, RSA 37

    • Administrative/supervisory head of all departments

      • Responsible to the governing body, serves at their pleasure, or as set forth in written contract

      • Duties defined in the statute

Employee v official

Employee v. Official

  • Not all people who work for a town or city are employees

  • Why are you asking?

    • IRS considers everyone who is paid an employee for federal tax purposes

    • State of NH labor laws don’t apply to officials

    • NH municipal laws distinguish between employees and officials re: who is in charge

Employee v official1

Employee v. Official

  • For purposes of today’s discussion:

    • Elected officials are NOT employees

      • Town clerks must be elected (RSA 41:16), so they are not town “employees”

    • Some appointed officials are also not employees

      • City clerks are appointed by city manager/mayor (depending on structure) but are city officers, not city “employees” (RSA 49-C:18 and :20)

Employee v official2

Employee v. Official

  • In towns, an employee has a boss

  • An official acts independently to perform duties prescribed by statute

    • Clerks have a variety of duties set by law

    • Also have optional duties (registering vehicles)

  • Not subject to supervision by the governing body (because no statute says so) or by town manager (RSA 37:5)

Employee v official3

Employee v. Official

In cities, the chief administrative officer has the power to appoint and remove all officers, including city clerk, RSA 49-C:18.

Look to the city charter for specifics on supervision, payment, review and other oversight by chief administrative officer

Relationship with governing body

Relationship with Governing Body

  • No interference with duties assigned to others by statute

    • Elected officials are not “employees” subject to a personnel policy

  • Exception – Duty to safeguard municipal assets under RSA 41:9

    • Establish internal control procedures

    • Town clerk, tax collector, treasurer, must provide information, may be removed for failure to safeguard

Relationship with governing body1

Relationship with Governing Body

  • As a result of being an “official”:

    • Personnel policy doesn’t apply

    • Leave time (sick, personal, vacation, other) does not apply

    • Insurance benefits for employees do not apply (unless legislative body votes to give it to them, or charter says so)

    • There is no supervisor, no annual review

    • No “full time” or “part time” distinction

Relationship with governing body2

Relationship with Governing Body

  • May the selectmen/administrative officer give the clerk additional duties?

  • No

    • No statute says they may

    • Non-interference statute says they can’t in charter towns and cities

    • Clerk’s duties are set forth in statutes

  • May they agree on it? Of course!

Relationship with governing body3

Relationship with Governing Body

  • May the governing body change the amount that the clerk gets paid?

    • Towns – NO. Officials “shall be paid” the amounts town meeting approved. RSA 31:9-b

    • Cities – It depends on the charter. Chief administrative officer may have authority to raise or reduce compensation

Relationship with governing body4

Relationship with Governing Body

  • Does the clerk get merit or step raises?

    • No – personnel policy does not apply.

    • They are not paid from the “personnel” line

    • They receive all of, and only, what the legislative body approved.

  • City clerks – may be eligible for merit raises under the charter

Relationship with governing body5

Relationship with Governing Body

  • Who determines the clerk’s budget?

  • Ultimately, the legislative body

    • Voters at town meeting

    • Town council in some charter towns

    • City council or mayor/board of aldermen

  • Important to remember that the clerk merely requests; the legislative body decides.

Relationship with governing body6

Relationship with Governing Body

  • Towns:

    • RSA 39:2 – “warrant for town meeting shall be under the hands of the selectmen…”

    • If official budget committee, they prepare the final proposed budget, RSA 32:5

    • Selectmen may still insert their own articles, RSA 31:131, even if not recommended by BC

    • Result: clerk makes request but is not in control of the proposed budget

Relationship with governing body7

Relationship with Governing Body

Does this mean that the town clerk has no recourse at all?

No – even if the appropriation initially requested doesn’t make it to the final proposed budget, clerk can still make a case at town meeting/deliberative session to restore what was asked for originally.

Relationship with governing body8

Relationship with Governing Body

  • May the governing body control the hours that the clerk’s office is open?

    • No. It is up to the clerk to get the job done.

    • A few statutes require the clerk to be available (election statutes re: registering voters, town meeting statutes re: taking minutes)

    • No statute grants authority for anyone to set hours beyond that.

    • City clerks – possibly different under charter.

Relationship with governing body9

Relationship with Governing Body

  • May the governing body impose internal controls on the clerk and other officials?

    • Yes.

    • Statutory authority for it

    • RSA 41:9, VI: selectmen shall be responsible for establishing appropriate internal control procedures to ensure the safeguarding of all town assets and properties. (Remember, town statutes apply to cities…)

Relationship with governing body10

Relationship with Governing Body

  • Cont’d…

    • RSA 41:9, VIII: Selectmen shall be responsible for establishing procedures to ensure all funds paid to any town department are given to treasurer at least once a week/$500.

Relationship with governing body11

Relationship with Governing Body

  • What are “internal controls”?

    • Processes to ensure reliable financial reporting, effective and efficient operations, and compliance with laws and regulations

    • System of checks and balances to prevent fraud, theft or other irregularity

    • Segregation of duties is important (no one person can authorize a transaction, record it, and maintain custody of the asset)

Relationship with governing body12

Relationship with Governing Body

  • Examples:

    • Computer software, systems, password protocols. Selectmen may put these in place and require frequent password changes, redundancy in case of emergency.

    • Equipment (computers, locks, etc.)

    • Who has access – Keys? Selectmen probably can require access to the extent necessary to implement internal controls

Relationship with governing body13

Relationship with Governing Body

  • May the governing body make decisions about which office the clerk is in, where they are set up, security measures?

    • Yes – this goes along with safeguarding the assets of the town.

    • Authority to manage town real property and its use, RSA 41:11-a.

    • Management of the budget – what can the municipality afford?



Appointed by clerk in towns, with approval of governing body (veto power) RSA 41:18

Appointed by chief administrative officer or according to charter in cities, RSA 48:6, RSA 49-C:18, :20, :21.

No term specified for deputies in the law



  • Deputies are employees, not officials

    • In re Town of Litchfield, 147 N.H. 415 (2002)

    • They work for the clerk

    • Clerk supervises and assigns duties

    • May specify hours of work

  • Deputies are important – do you have one? Every municipality should.



Deputy is qualified in the same manner as the clerk (i.e., the deputy must be eligible to hold the clerk’s position)

Deputy performs all the duties of the clerk if the clerk is absent or the clerk’s position is vacant

RSA 41:18



  • Does the deputy have be a resident?

    • City – no. Clerk doesn’t have to live there, so neither does deputy.

    • Towns: inconsistent statutes

      • RSA 41:18 says deputy is “qualified in the same manner as the town clerk,” who must be elected and thus must be a resident

      • RSA 669:65 says vacancies in office of clerk are initially filled by deputy until selectmen fill it, unless the deputy doesn’t live in town



  • Who sets the deputy’s compensation?

  • Depends on how the legislative body has structured the budget.

    • Is there a separate personnel line that is supposed to include the deputy?

    • Or is there simply a clerk line?

  • If no separate compensation provided in budget, it probably comes out of clerk line.



  • Who removes the clerk? Good question.

    • Selectmen remove town clerk

    • Chief administrative officer removes city clerk

    • Deputy statutes don’t say anything

  • Compare with deputy tax collector, who “may be removed at the pleasure of the tax collector” RSA 41:38

  • Implication is it isn’t the clerk who removes

Final thoughts

Final Thoughts

Neither governing body nor clerk has ultimate authority over everything

There is a balance of powers

Cooperation on both sides is the most productive way to go

Why are you all there? To serve.



  • Thank you for attending!

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