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By Todd Wildermuth, City of Roswell Public Information Officer
The Roswell City Clerk’s Office, as well as municipal clerks throughout New Mexico and the nation, fulfills a role that has a long history, dating back to the earliest and most basic forms of government. The clerk is considered one of the oldest government professions, established in ancient civilizations when scribes would document the business of government.
“Culture involves the proper execution and operation of government to truly serve the people’s needs,” says Roswell City Clerk Sharon Coll, “and city clerks have always helped record the proceedings of the government to help with the legal processes.”
Throughout the history of the State of New Mexico, the role of the city clerk has expanded as the state has grown from scattered rural towns and villages to large modern cities. Meanwhile, how the Clerk’s Office accomplishes its duties has also changed through the years as advances in technology have affected the tools used by the clerk and the resources able to be offered to the public.
The Roswell City Clerk’s Office oversees the local municipal election process, maintains public records, prepares the agenda for City Council meetings and produces the minutes of the meetings. The city clerk also prepares the annual budget for the Clerk’s Office and each municipal election, ensures the publication of legal notices for a wide variety of public meetings and hearings, and is the records custodian for the City of Roswell.
These are just a few of the more recognizable and frequent tasks taken care of by Coll (left in photo), who has been city clerk for seven years (through 2018), and four-year (through 2018) Deputy City Clerk Stephanie Garay. But each day, the two-person department at city hall can be called on to handle any number of things necessary to serve the citizens and assist other city staff. Coll says the various functions of a given day depend on “the happenings of that particular day,” meaning she and Garay “wear many hats.”
And no matter what hat they are called on to wear at any given time, Coll says it is rewarding to be “interacting with many individuals within our city and learning their passions within the community and being fortunate enough to be a part of their successes in community projects.”
Coll reminds the public to provide as much detailed information – dates, times, addresses, names, etc. – as possible when requesting records. This helps the Clerk’s Office locate the records quicker. Being as specific and clear about what is being requested is also very helpful in making the public-records retrieval process smoother.
The Clerk’s Office asks that Inspection of Public Records Act requests be submitted through the city website (roswell-nm.gov) since the Clerk’s Office uses this online system to track these requests to ensure prompt responses and compliance with the public-records statute. Citizens can find the records-request link on the website under the “Government” or “How Do I…” tabs.
The availability of a website to more easily communicate with the public has enabled Roswell residents to look up an array of information that in the past they had to come get in person at the Clerk’s Office. From the city ordinances to election information, the Clerk’s Office provides frequently-sought information online so citizens can access it anytime and anywhere.
Part of the election information organized for public distribution is the locations of polling places where citizens cast their ballots. Coll led the City of Roswell’s transition from specific voting sites for each area of the city to Voting Convenience Centers that provide more voting-location options for voters.
“During the municipal elections when I first became city clerk, voters would need to know the ward and/or precinct they lived to cast their vote,” Coll explains. “Shortly after that, I was fortunate that the Roswell City Council voted in favor of the voting convenience centers which allow voters to cast their vote at any location there was a voting center.”
During the time just before each municipal election, the City Clerk’s Office fields numerous questions about early voting, absentee voting, voting convenience centers and more.
“We strive to educate the public on the election process and clear up some common misconceptions about voting,” Coll says, noting many of the election questions her office answers relate to how the voting convenience centers are set up, how election integrity is maintained, and the types of ballots voters use.
As part of its role as a hub and historian of local government, the Clerk’s Office also provides many critical documents and pieces of information to other city departments so those departments can complete their tasks efficiently and effectively. As the records custodian for the city, the Clerk’s Office provides legal and historical records, such as ordinances, resolutions, minutes, agendas, contracts, deeds and other documents. All of these official records assist city departments in a wide variety of daily tasks and long-term projects.
William Bennett Munro, a political scientist writing in 1934 in one of the first textbooks on municipal administration, summed up the important function of a City Clerk’s Office: “No other office in municipal service has so many contracts. It serves the mayor, the city council, the city manager (when there is one), and all administrative departments without exception. All of them call upon it, almost daily, for some service or information. Its work is not spectacular, but it demands versatility, alertness, accuracy, and no end of patience. The public does not realize how many loose ends of city administration this office pulls together.”